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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

I'll admit it, my opinion of this film is biased due to me being an avid fan of the source material. My soft spot for this film was guaranteed from the very start. But at the same time, I am also praised the original Swedish version which makes me a suitable person to analyze David Fincher’s new adaptation that shows Hollywood at its most daring

Opening with an aggressive title sequence that features Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ chillingly good version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and visuals that look as if they came right from Reznor’s own fascinatingly twisted mind. Both Reznor and Ross are among a team of returning members of Fincher’s award-winning crew from the The Social Network (2010).

I will just quickly sum up the plot because you probably already have at least an idea of what it is about. A shamed journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, is hired by aging businessman, Henrik Vanger, to solve the 40-year-old mystery of what the disappearance of his niece, Harriet. Through odd, but fortunate circumstances he gains the assistance of tortured, but brilliant hacker/researcher, Lisbeth Salander, who has a troubled, uncontrollable past that haunts her. As they uncover the truth about the Vanger family and their twisted nature, Blomkvist and Salander find themselves caught in a labyrinth of violence and murder than neither of them are ready handle.

Daniel Craig preps his upcoming Bond role with his performance as unconventional and resourceful journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. He brings his A-list good looks and British charm to an archetype role that has nice bit of depth to it. But all anticipation and hype is on the shoulders of young Rooney Mara. She immerses herself in her emotionally and mentally imbalanced role as Stieg Larsson's tortured heroine. She transformed her appearance - she cut and dyed her hair, the piercings are real and she bleached her eyebrows - which alone deserves to be praised because of the dedication it required. Also learning how to ride a motorcycle. Mara went that extra step that few actresses would have been able to by bringing her complicated character to life. Let me get this straight first, Noomi Rapace does make a more fitting Lisbeth Salander, but the fact that she is Swedish and looks as if she was torn right out of Larsson's book gives her and unfair advantage. Mara's is a fresh, Americanized portrayal that is great in its own ways. Her relationship with Blomkvist is more open and becomes more attached than that of the Swedish version, or even the book, but what it ends up achieving revealing the true vulnerability of her character.

Mara and Craig are the runners of this brutal show, but another performance that will have a lasting effect is Stellan Skarsgard's performance as Martin Vanger. Unfortunately I cannot go too much into why his performance is so surprisingly spectacular because of my not wanting to spoil the surprise it brings. What I can say - this being directed at those who have read the book - is that a fresh new element is added to his character that actually goes in a very different direction from the book, but ends up being fitting and wonderfully executed.

A criticism this film has been faced with is that it is essential the same film as the Swedish version. That statement is absurd, ridiculous, and it confuses me that someone who could honestly say that. Fincher's version goes further into some of the backstory to Blomkvist's mystery and delves deeper into some of the more detailed aspects of Larsson's novel than the Swedish version, but at the same time skims through parts that the Swedish version read thoroughly. But that is how adaptations of novels go, to be extremely faithful in one area forces others to be passed over. I found myself catching little differences from the book that bothered me or got me worried, but Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zallian - who also wrote the Academy Award winning script for the The Social Network (2010) - do a great job of getting rid of these worries by staying true to Larsson's story and making sure that the material is represented in the best possible way.

Fincher also re-collaborates with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth who also worked on Fight Club (1998) and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Social Network. He perfectly captures the murky, grimy atmosphere of Sweden - where filming took place.

As adaptations, I must say that neither the Swedish version or the American version are better than the other. The Swedish version is more gritty and subtle in its presentation and content. It stays truer to Larsson's novel, overall, but in the process takes less risks thus simply telling the story (which isn't a flaw, at all). While Fincher's version shows a return to his form the 90s when he directed the twisted crime-drama, Se7en (1995). His adaptation is violently stylized enhancing the brutality, which makes this version more thrilling, but less organized (which isn't necessarily a flaw either for a film like this). All the flaws in organization and pacing are mooted due to the way the plot unravels and comes together with twisted grace and raw power. With saying all of that, my personal preference would be this version. I appreciate the subtlety of the Swedish adaptation, but I found myself additively indulging in the stylized, violent extremes that Fincher went to with this one.

David Fincher’s takes a Hollywood adaptation to a brash new level: full of violence, nudity and a brilliantly executed plot. Lovers of the book with find this to be a satisfyingly faithful adaptation that dares go off on its own occasionally while still hitting on all the essentials. Rooney Mara’s dedication pays off splendidly, she brings a new life with to one of the best modern-day literary heroines with her strained, unsettling portrayal of Lisbeth Salander. Now the real question is: how will Fincher continue this saga? If he keeps up this pace, this could end up being the best modern trilogy since The Lord of the Rings.


  1. Great review, Adam. I loved this film for the same reasons as you. The most memorable elements for me were Rooney Mara's dedicated performance and the bleak, cold-colored cinematography. I'm still interested in seeing the Swedish version, though I'm sure it's not nearly as good.

    P.S. - Look over your review. One paragraph is a different font size while another has a whole sentence cut off at the end. Just thought I'd let you know. Still, a good job you have done!

  2. Really great review. I read the first book a long time ago, and honestly don't remember much about it, so it was nice to read your comparisons between the films and the books. I dug Fincher's version a lot, too. Wouldn't it be killer if Mara got a nomination?

  3. It’s certainly worth seeing if you missed the original. If you saw it, however, there’s no way of unseeing it, and nothing in the new one to top it. Craig and Mara are great here though and Fincher brings so much more to this film like I was expecting too. Good review.

  4. Granted the film is not a scene by scene remake, but I still fail to see the point of it as the Swedish version is the superior version and already fits the bill perfectly as an adaptation of Larsson’s book. So why do we need another apart from to serve the interests of those who do not really want to read subtitles.

    I admit, this is a good film, the performances are superb, editing brilliant but the film makes some plot changes that are not necessarily for the better. Also thanks for correcting me other the niece, daughter situation. In my review I claimed that Harriet was his daughter. Though he did adopt her, so I was half right.

    Good review Adam, I think I’ve already followed you.