The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.

So I’ve been hearing this title The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for quite some time. Well aware that it was a novel long before I ever heard of the Fincher film version, I never had time to read the book. Or maybe I didn’t feel motivated to read an English translation of a Swedish work. Perhaps I never caught a review of the book that piqued my interest or no one bothered to tell me in person just how good a read it really is. Whatever. By the time I realized that I need to read this book, plus the other two in the Millennium series, I was seeing previews for the Hollywood adaptation. Those previews looked very intriguing, if not downright mesmerizing. Besides, if Daniel Craig is starring, you can bet I’ll be there.

Sometimes a Hollywood remake of a foreign-language film can leave a lot to be desired and adaptations of complex popular books, even those highly anticipated by fans of the original, may tend to fall flat. These are my typical concerns with movies based on stories first published in a format meant to be read, not visually ingested. Once I started paying attention to the previews for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, though, I reassessed my hesitation. Then came the epiphany: directed by David Fincher. Duh! All of my apprehension dissolved and I couldn’t wait to see this movie. Other films directed by Fincher such as Zodiac, Se7en, The Social Network, etc. are so superior that I had no doubt this would be a great movie. How closely it might remain true to the original source is another topic, but since I had not yet read the book I felt confident that I would enjoy the movie immensely without being hampered by comparisons.

It was with high expectations that I went to see this much-hyped film. All I knew of it was what I had seen in the previews:  it was set in extremely cold Sweden, there was a decades-old mystery to be solved, there would be a young female character sporting some kind of dragon-shaped tattoo, and Daniel Craig would lead the effort to solve the mystery.

Fincher did not disappoint – it was a riveting experience! Even though the beginning felt a little slow at first, it laid the groundwork for fully developing the main characters. To understand this girl with a dragon tattoo, Lisbeth, you had to get to know her, and Fincher made sure we got a proper introduction. Words like tough, independent, clever, fearless, strong, cunning, brilliant – words one would usually associate with a male role – are not even enough to properly describe Lisbeth. A ward of the state, she is at the mercy of her government caseworker for survival. When the caseworker mistakenly assumes he can do whatever he wants to her, she treats him to a dose of his own medicine – tenfold. Then she is free to take on the job of investigator for Mikael Blomkvist, helping him dig up the past of a wealthy family composed of some very strange and scary characters.

Just like other Fincher movies there is some shocking, graphic violence in this one. And though it may be difficult to watch (may actually have you squirming in your seat in discomfort), it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It feels real in a way that lets you sympathize with Lisbeth and understand a tiny bit about what motivates her. Rooney Mara deserves every bit of Oscar attention she gets for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Daniel Craig is excellent as Mikael Blomkvist, the Swedish magazine editor who takes on the assignment of solving the murder of an elderly, wealthy industrialist’s niece forty years before. Christopher Plummer as the elderly gentleman is a real treat.

It is quite a complex story: Does the niece’s murder tie into other old, unsolved murders? Just how crazy is Lisbeth? Is Blomkvist being set up to take an even greater fall than the disgrace he endures at the beginning of the movie? What is really wrong with the Vanger family, isolated on their island estate, protected by their collective silence and their vast wealth? Is there anyone still living who has the answers to the puzzle?

I am told by people who have read the book and seen the movie that the film is a great take on the novel, but much had to be left out. This is not surprising as it is understandably difficult to compress a really well-written and detailed story into appropriate movie length. Also, Rooney Mara may have taken the character of Lisbeth in a different direction than the actress in the original Swedish-language film version. I have no quibble with any of that; this is an excellent, riveting mystery-drama all on its own. Now I have to find time to read the book and see what amazing material had to be left out of Fincher’s version. Then I’ll read the other two books in the series and by the time those movies are made I’m sure I’ll have an opinion about how they compare to the novels.

In the meantime, I highly recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to anyone who enjoys good movies. Just be aware that there is profanity, graphic violence, and nudity in abundance.

Rating: Full Bucket plus an extra serving and some Milk DudsA full bucket of popcorn!One serving of popcorn

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4 thoughts on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  1. Thank you Susan for your review. I am pleased that you liked it, without even knowing the books. Those are my favourites, top of the list. I liked Sweddish version, cause It was to see what I read. I am fully ready for American version. From what I read it’s more from a book plot in here, which is great.
    I love Lisbeth character. I sympathised with her since her first show up in the story. I like your description of her. “tough, independent, clever, fearless, strong, cunning, brilliant”. I would add (based on books) – sensitive deep inside, hurt /wounded child, lonely, not feeling secured, with her nails always ready to scratch, to protect herself, with fantastic brain skills. For me part2 is the best. Do read the books, you will love them. In part1 is some Polish thread. Polish premiere of the movie is January 13. I can’t wait to see it and compare to the reviews, books and Sweddish version of the movie.

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    • You are quite welcome, Mermon! After you see the Fincher version, please let us know what you thought, how it compares to the books and also to the original Swedish film. I’m really anxious to read the books and get a deeper understanding of these fantastic characters.

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      • I came back here after seeing the movie. I think it’s a fantastic one, I really enjoyed every minute of it. The whole cast is excellent. Daniel Craig – like Mikael should be – warm, likeable man, having lovers without any effort. 🙂 For your information, it was not in the movie, but in the book Cecilia Vanger was his lover too. IMO typical Swedish style of freedom in sex life.
        Rooney Mara is great. She is nominated for Oscar, by the way. She deserved that. She’s a bit different Lisbeth from Naomi Rapace, but excellent. I think they are both good in portraying that character. I don’t want to choose.
        The movie is longer, so more detailed from Swedish version. The Trent Reznor score is very good, creating right atmosphere. Movie opening with Led Zeppelin Immigrant Song is breathtaking. In general I prefer American film. The movie left me with longing for seeing in again and for the next parts.

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  2. Loved the movie, though some parts were difficult to watch in the theatre with my adult daughter. Enjoyed the amount of grays used in the film to help the audience feel the cold of the setting. By the way, did you know that Rooney Mara is part of the Mara family that is the majority owners of the New York Giants football team? No wonder she knows how to rumble.

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