David Fincher took on a great responsibility (and a great risk) when he agreed to direct an American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first installment of the Swedish author’s Millennium trilogy. One of the most talented and reliably ingenious filmmakers working today, Fincher is constantly pushing himself to create better and more engaging films. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he has succeeded once again and delivers one of the best films of his career.
A disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), is asked by an obsessive millionaire, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to investigate a 40-year-old unsolved murder involving a young girl. Vanger suspects that one of his family members, all of whom he describes as selfish, miserly and ruthless, is responsible for the death of his brother’s granddaughter, Harriet (Moa Garpendal), to whom he was very close. Vanger invites Blomkvist to stay at his estate while researching the murder under the ruse of ghost writing his autobiography.
The young researcher who dug into Blomkvist’s past, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), as a part of Vanger’s vetting process, soon finds herself working alongside the man with whom she has become intimately familiar. Together, Blomkvist and Lisbeth begin investigating every member of Vanger’s family hoping to uncover the person or persons responsible for Harriet’s death. In the process, they discover a much more startling secret, one that no one could have suspected.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a magnificent feat of cinematic storytelling. Fincher, who has made his name with dark, violent films like Seven and Fight Club, films the story’s violence with an almost apologetic hesitancy. There is nothing sensationalized about the brutal events that take place; it is simply what happens. Though he is not known for making overt references or tributes to other filmmakers, in Dragon Tattoo Fincher is clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining from the unrelenting, frozen landscape to the repetitious subtext of obsessive mania. Pay careful attention and you will also see unmistakable nods to Fincher’s own (highly underrated) film The Game which shares more than a few similarities with Dragon Tattoo.
As in The Social Network, Fincher uses music in a very distinct and purposeful manner. The film’s score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the team who scored The Social Network for Fincher, is filled with screeching industrial metal sounds that echo the cold, machine-driven world in which the characters are more likely to interact by email than by face-to-face conversation. Lisbeth, who is a savant when it comes to electronics, is more comfortable in front of a computer screen filled with a person’s most intimate secrets than she is in front of her boss or client. This obvious reflection of today’s society is no accident.
If the burden of getting the novel’s adaptation right was on Fincher’s shoulders, the expectation of Mara to successfully portray Lisbeth was possibly even greater. Mara, who had a small, but significant, role in The Social Network, has created a truly unique and unforgettable character in this film. Unlike Noomi Rapace, who played Lisbeth in the Swedish versions of the trilogy, Mara convinces the audience that not only is she capable of the violence she unleashes on the men who wrong her, she is also mature enough to expose herself emotionally to the one man who hasn’t. (This is in no way a criticism of Rapace’s performance which is terrific as well.) Having beaten out a dozen A-list actresses for this role, it is clear Mara is the only one brave enough to bring Lisbeth to the screen.
Fans of the novel and/or the Swedish film will undoubtedly take exception to Steven Zaillian’s screenplay which makes minor, but significant, changes to Larsson’s story, but they should be ignored. The foundation of what Larsson was saying is still intact and is possibly more powerful with this revision. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an outstanding film by a brilliant director. Fincher has, once again, raised the bar for filmmakers and added yet another title to his ever expanding list of masterworks.
This film runs 158 minutes and is rated R.