By Toussaint Egan
David Fincher’s 2011 English adaption of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a tense, kinetically paced psychological mystery thriller very much in line with his previous work during the mid to late 1990’s with films like Se7en and The Game. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shows a noticeable progression and development from those two and adapts to a pre-existing story while injecting his own understanding of it much the same as he did with the 1999 film “Fight Club.” Roughly the same picture, this time just placed in a sharp and shiny new obsidian frame.
The film follows the story of Mikael Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig, an investigative reporter with journalist reputation for acting as a watchdog against crooked financial practices that has been publically dishonored and financially depleted by accusations of libel against Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, a wealthy corrupt businessman and money launderer. Mikael resigns from his editorial position at the independent magazine he helped to create and retreats into a self-imposed exile, hoping to reassess his situation and eventually rebuild his credibility. Just when Mikael is at his lowest point, he’s contacted by the assistant of Henrik Vanger, retired CEO of one of Sweden’s most storied family-owned corporations. Henrik approaches Mikael with a proposition; investigate the disappearance of his beloved great-niece Harriet 36 years ago and uncover the conspirators behind it. Mikael must to investigate the entire Vanger extended family, all close inhabitants of Henrik’s estate. In return, he is promised a generous compensation along with positive proof of Wennerstrom’s shady practices that will exonerate Mikael’s reputation and restore his career. Little does Mikael know that he is about to be flung headfirst into a tangled web of death and conspiracy stitched from over three decades of murder and familial deceit.
Playing opposite of this narrative is the story of Lisabeth Salander, the titular namesake of the film, an uncannily perceptive private security consultant and computer hacker with a punk rock fashion sense and a talent for procuring information on particularly elusive targets. Though originally hired to keep tabs on Mikael, she ends up helping Mikael to catch the killer and begins an odd partnership that eventually becomes a budding romance between the two. Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisabeth in this film is not as volatile as her 2009 counterpart but is just as calculative, if not more cunning and ruthless. But perhaps this toning down of her anger comes at the cost of her human appeal. Lisabeth comes off as bizarrely aloof and detached from the traumatic indignities afflicted on her, which makes it difficult to empathize with her beyond the surface of her experiences. Just the same as it was in the Swedish adaption and the original novel, there are graphic scenes of rape and violence towards women that are not for those of weak disposition. Although graphic, these scenes are never included for a reason other than to explore and define the complexity of Lisabeth’s character and her meticulously merciless approach to revenge.
Fincher’s adaption is just as tense and engrossing as the 2009 original, but sacrifices a lot of the subtleties of the Swedish film to substitute it for a more action driven sensibility to appeal to a mainstream American audience .A lot of the CGI constructed establishing shots are cool, like the aerial view of the Mikael’s family reunion and of his train ride to Henrik’s estate, creating a sweeping scope of intrigue and mystery. From what I’ve read and heard from friends who are passionate fans of the book, the 2009 Swedish movie took a number of creative liberties and omissions in adapting the novel to film. As of this writing, I have not yet read Stieg Larsson’s novel and so I cannot speak to how Fincher’s version holds up in this area, but I can say for certain that the film has piqued my interest in reading the original trilogy.
The 30 minute or so denouement resolves the principal mysteries and storylines of the film, some more satisfactorily than others, while alluding to the consequences of these resolutions being explored further in potential future installments. I will look forward to seeing what Fincher would do next with the last two books and whether they will be adapted or not.
I would recommend this film to any moviegoer looking for a good mystery with powerful psychological themes. Action oriented audiences will find as much entertainment in this film as fans of the original film/novel would, but bear in mind the points of contention I have noted earlier. This is not a film to bring your kids or younger siblings to.