Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (U.S. Version)

Anyone who has seen the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as I have, is naturally going to compare it to that film, if not the book both are based on (I have not read the novel, though I did read the second in the series). To get the comparisons out of the way, David Fincher’s U.S. version, written by Steve Zaillian, is a better film, with less interest in fidelity to the novel, although it is pretty faithful, instead opting for an overall feeling of gloom and despair, somewhat akin to Fincher’s approach in Zodiac and Se7en. The faults in the film, as with the Swedish version, rest with the source author, Stieg Larsson.

To quickly sum up, a journalist who has been convicted of libel (Daniel Craig), is summoned to a privately-owned island in the north of Sweden. A patriarch of a very rich family, Christopher Plummer, asks him to look into the disappearance of his niece some 40 years earlier. Plummer’s family is a gaggle of Nazis and other reprobates, and the whole thing has a kind of “locked door” quality to it, as there is only one way off the island and it was blocked by a traffic accident when the girl vanished.

Meanwhile, we meet Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), by now one of the most celebrated characters in contemporary pop literature. A computer genius with a troubled background, she has a face full of hardware, a body covered in ink, is sexually ambiguous, and isn’t trained in the social niceties. She investigates Craig’s background for Plummer’s lawyer, and then goes about dealing with her new legal guardian, who rapes her viciously. Her revenge is appropriately vicious in turn.

Eventually, of course, Craig and Mara team up, and I think they had better chemistry in this film. For one thing, the characterization of Mikael Blomkvist, as played by Craig, makes him much less of a lady’s man than he is in Larsson’s books. Salander is also less of a super-woman. There’s no inkling in this film that she has martial arts training–when her backpack is stolen in the subway, she retrieves it not like some sort of Jet Li in a Mohawk, but more like a very pissed off teenager. But, Zaillian sticks with the mistake of having the two become intimate. There’s just no reason for this, and it threw both films off their axis. The relationship would have been far more poignant if the attraction between them would have been more avuncular and unacted upon.

The film is over two and a half hours long but seems to go too fast in spots, as the mystery is pieced together rather quickly, to the effect of it being almost beside the point. My memory is fuzzy, but I don’t recall in the other film Blomkvist having a teenage daughter, who here clues him on the solution of a particular puzzle that rapidly unlocks everything else. Instead, Fincher is more concerned with mood, and the scenes that take place on the island reminded me of Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf, which had similar characters that were part monster. The opening credits, like something out of a Bond film, had scenes of a dripping oily substance on body parts, set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” cuing us in for a macabre evening.

I enjoyed this film, and often it found it pulse-pounding, but it has some problems that are unfixable. The denouement, involving Mara helping Craig get revenge on the man who set him up, seems to go on forever. As stated, some of this is Larsson’s uninspired writing–does every villain really explain everything to the investigator before he tries to kill him? But the acting is good–Mara, while not outshining Noomi Repace, does strike me as a more vulnerable figure, and is difficult to take your eyes off of. It is a bit hypocritical, though, for a movie about cruelty to women to have Mara frequently undressed.

My grade for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: B.


About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

8 responses »

  1. I think this is the closest we’ve ever come to being in agreement on a film! My review over at FSR shares many of the same praises and criticisms, and I think our only real difference is in the Lisbeth comparison. I prefer Mara over Rapace.

  2. It’s not that I thought Rapace was better than Mara, I just think they played the character differently, and I actually preferred Mara.

    By the way, I learned today that my stepbrother’s stepdaughter (how’s that for a tenuous connection) was one of the rotoscoping crew on the film. She’s in the credits–her name is Christine Carnegie. I don’t know when or where there was rotoscoping in the film, but I guess we don’t know when we’re seeing something computer-generated anymore.

  3. It’s everywhere these days – locations usually. Tough to get a location – go grab a plate with a Cannon 5D and green screen it. And GS almost always needs some rotoscoping. It’s even done a lot in TV these days. Certainly more trouble doing it in terms of time, but much less expensive than shooting on location.

    Anyway – my dad quite liked the original 3 (I thought they were okay, with the first being the best) and wants to see this – but it just looks so similar to me that it seems unnecessary to me. They keep the same settings and nationalities. It looks stylistically similar. It’s like the only reason to do it was to have it in non-dubbed English.

    I am interested to see how the flaws play out – as sometimes foreign films get a break for those to some extent. Like – that was weird, but hey – it’s a _________ movie.

  4. On a Fincher film? What ISN’T rotoscoped.
    Watch the behind the scenes of Zodiac and especially Panic Room, it’s amazing how he gets so many of his shots through computer generated imagery.

  5. On a Fincher film? What ISN’T rotoscoped.

    Ha ha, pretty much what I was going to say.

    I read somewhere last year re: The Social Network and the Winklevoss twins that Fincher can’t do a film without embarking on some unnecessarily complex special effects challenge. Makes me wonder what he did for this film.

  6. The bottom line with Fincher’s version is that it improves on none of the flaws of the Swedish version (many of which, I suspect, are inherent to the source material), while making the romance between the two even less convincing.

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