The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

*This review contains some graphic descriptions of the graphic material found in the film.  

“The fear of offending is stronger than the fear of pain. “

-Martin Vanger

When it was announced that David Fincher would be re-adapting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo there was a split in the fan base of both the book and the 2009 Swedish film directed by Niels Arden Oplev. While it was a fairly controversial move, the fans began to become more and more interested as Daniel Craig was cast as Mikael Blomkvist and the lesser known Rooney Mara was cast as Lisbeth Salander.  Ever since the promotion of the film ramped up a few months ago fans have become anxious to see if this film can live up to both the book and the original film. Does Fincher bring an interesting dynamic to the international best seller or is Hollywood just taking advantage of the loyal fan base and cashing a check?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who is the co-owner and a writer of the Millennium magazine. After losing a libel case against a rival of sorts  Mikael is called by a lawyer who represents Henrik Vanger(Christopher Plummer). Vanger had recently had a girl named Lisbeth Salander(Rooney Mara) doing an extensive background check on Mikael as Vanger wants Mikael to investigate the disappearance of his niece Harriet that took place over 40 years ago during a family event. Salander eventually comes back into the picture when Mikael demands the need for a research assistant. The film quickly goes from a character drama to a mystery investigation film as Mikael and Lisbeth dig deeper and deeper into the disappearance of Harriet. As the film progresses, the stakes begin to rise when the pair discover that the apparent killer is onto their case.

The story in this film is very much a mystery and I have to admit that this may be one of the best mystery films I’ve seen in years as the plot of the movie gives you many fragmented answers and leaves it to you to figure it out the answers until the reveal near the end of the movie. This slower and more sophisticated mystery film is a breath of fresh air due to many films(Sherlock Holmes, National Treasure) that have a rushed plot and spoon fed answers at the end. The movie is slow enough to give you time to think about and digest everything that is happening, but not so slow that it becomes a chore to watch. Pacing is key in this film, and while I thought the first third of the movie may have dragged just a little too much, the rest of the movie hits a pitch perfect pacing that’s not too fast or slow for the audience.

The character work in this film is terrific as the two leads are wholly developed and very interesting to watch. The character of Lisbeth is certainly the most interesting to watch as she goes on a dark and complicated journey into darkness before she makes it back to her only slightly unstable self. In the beginning of the film we see that she is a legal ward of the state due to a diagnosis of mental instability and the her guardian who has always looked after her passes away. She is then reassigned to a man named Nils Bjurman who takes control of her finances and only gives her allowances after she performs sexual favors for him. This is the moment in which we begin to see just who Lisbeth as she goes to the extreme to break free of this evil man’s control. After Lisbeth is able to record being brutally raped for an allowance by Nils she returns to him and knocks him out before raping him with a metal Dildo and writes “I am a Rapist” across his chest. She then blackmails him with the video and has the man scared for his life.  All of this takes place before she begins working with Mikael about a third the way through the movie. These scenes are incredibly graphic and very uncomfortable, but they do serve a very distinct purpose of showing us who Lisbeth really is and how crazy and unstable she can be. Daniel Craig gets quite a bit of his own character work as the recently convicted libel writer. Losing this case makes him an outcast and an untrustworthy writer which leaves him without a job. As the film progresses we learn about him and what his motives are as he works on the case. He wishes not only for money, but also a way to get back at the person who sued him for libel and Vanger promises to provide him with that opportunity should he solve the case.  The movie is certainly a character driven one as there is a fairly significant amount of set up for both the plot and the characters before Mikael and Lisbeth begin working on the case together.

The direction in this film is absolutely top notch. David Fincher(The Social NetworkFight Club) has already proven himself in the mystery-thriller genre with both Se7en and Zodiac and his great work continues in this film. The pacing is great, cinematography and editing are both unique and interesting, the acting is some of the best I’ve seen this year, and lastly the movie just flat out succeeds at doing what it does which is to create an intense and intriguing mystery that is supposed to keep the audience guessing all the way through. Fincher knocks this film out of the park. While all of the credit for each of these different things does not go solely to him; he does manage to bring all of these different elements together and he does it in a way that few other directors could manage to do it. The use and level of the graphic material was up to Fincher in this movie and I think he handled it rather well considering how far this material could have been taken. There are 2 rape scenes, 1 blow job scene, and a couple of fairly graphic sex scenes that are in this film and  in what was a surprise to me they are all necessary and are all actually more tactfully done than I expected. These scenes are all there to illustrate the characters in the story(mostly Lisbeth) and without these scenes the audience would not be able to understand just how sick and unstable Lisbeth is without them. This is one of the rare circumstances in Hollywood where sex and rape are used to give extra depth to character and another dimension to the film. With all of this being said I would highly recommend that anyone who is a bit squeamish when it comes to such subjects or anyone who is not prepared for these scenes ahead of time not see this film because they are so graphic and flat out uncomfortable. To give insight into what I mean as graphic; there is a point during one of the rape scenes in which you actually hear(but don’t see) the penetration. This is not one to take your kids to folks, and please don’t forget it. I really do respect just what Fincher has done with this story and material as he has made it distinctly different, but still reminiscent of the source material.

Overall I think that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a terrific mystery-thriller and one of this year’s best dramas(that I’ve seen so far). For those that can handle the very graphic material I’d highly recommend this film because of its great story, excellent character work, masterful directing,  and soul pounding soundtrack.

Story: 9.5

The story could be broken down to a man and his partner investigating the disappearance of a woman 40 years ago. While this is the basic plot; the story becomes far more developed than that as we end up getting a very dark and intense mystery-thriller that had me guessing until the very end of the film. The pacing is just a bit slow for the first third of the movie, but picks up to the pitch perfect speed for mystery films in the latter end of the film.

Character/Acting: 10

Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara sell this film with their portrayals of Mikael and Lisbeth. The film spends most of its first act showing us just who these two are and it is done with some very graphic yet very well written scenes that will have the audience turning in their seats. Rooney Mara does a particularly outstanding job and could potentially be looking at an Oscar nomination this year because of her exceptional work done in this film.Aside from the two leads the acting is suitable enough to keep the audience in the experience. One other exception I will mention is the killer(whom I obviously won’t reveal) who becomes very creepy once he/she is revealed.

Direction: 10

David Fincher continues to show just how well he can direct mystery-thriller films. This film certainly set itself apart enough from both Fincher’s other works and the original source material to be its own piece of art. Fincher brings several terrific elements such as the writing, soundtrack, and acting together to make this film feel all together great. Fincher chooses to leave the uncomfortable and intense graphic material in the film and uses it to great effect.

Overall Effectivness of the Film: 9.5

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best mystery-thriller movies I’ve seen in years and it certainly sets itself up as one of the best of the year. Everything from the acting, directing, writing, and scoring in this film is exceptional. While I did think that the film dragged just a bit too much in the first act; it is hardly a problem enough to damage the movie. This is the best mystery of the year.

Overall Score: 9.5

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2 comments

  1. 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.

  2. That quote stuck with me as well. Overall, a pretty slow burn of a movie for me. Really enjoyed the middle, but the front end and epilogue of the movie really felt like it drug on. I also feel like the scenes that shocked were too over the top. It felt forced like the director needed to force feed me the brutality and it really took me out of the film. To touch on the above comment, I have heard great things about the original film and have heard this is a pretty close carbon copy of it. I wish more remakes would step out a little and keep the plot, but change it up a little. Why just copy a great movie that already exists? Would it kill an American audience to watch a movie in subtitles or have someone other than James Bond in a role? Sadly, it might.

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