Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – Review

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good mystery story that acts more like a character piece in many ways. The film is about disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist who is hired by a wealthy businessman Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of his niece – only, he suspects someone in his own family and the case has been unsolved for over forty years. Blomkvist teams up with reclusive and damaged Lisbeth Salander, an expert researcher, to find out what really happened. Director David Fincher has a difficult task from the outset with this film, as the Swedish version directed by Niels Arden Oplev tells the story very well (and came out recently in 2009). Fincher’s film feels a lot more like a character piece and the mystery story is sort of the backdrop for Blomkvist and Salander to interact snd meet, while Oplev’s film certainly focuses on the mystery. In terms of the story, Fincher does not really add anything new to the narrative, but he has a different take on the characters. There is confidence to his characters; they feel comfortable in almost every situation they find themselves in. They do not appear to be as venerable – at least when they find themselves in harrowing situations. However, it is in their more intimate relationships that these characters find themselves much more out of their element and venerable. Blomkvist does not know how to interact with his teenage catholic daughter, while Salander seems quite uneasy in her friendship with her sickly guardian and her deeper relationship with Blomkvist, and Blomkvist does not quite know what to make of Salander when it comes to how she might be feeling on a deeper level (as she seems so hard on the outside). A difficult aspect of this narrative is that if Fincher wanted to both focus on the mystery and still give the characters all the moments he has the film would be overly long (as it is already 158 minutes as is). Thus, he had to decide what was more important to him – and it seems to be the characters. The film has a long epilogue focusing on Salander doing something for Blomkvist as she has developed feelings for him. Now, if the audience recognizes the film as a character piece, then this epilogue is not so much an epilogue but the third act for the characters and works well, but if not then the narrative structure seems overly long and dragged out (after all the mystery was already solved long ago in their minds). Plus, Fincher flies through the uncovering of the mystery using montages and very adept directing, cutting all the fat. Things seem to develop in terms of the progress in the case much faster than they do in the actual time passing within the narrative (which takes place over the course of a full year). Also, many of the scenes early in the film seem to be brisk (the cuts coming quick, leaving the rhythm feeling a bit frantic). He does this because he wants to get back to the characters and their moments that define them – and these character scenes are the best part of the film. As a mystery narrative, it is still a good film but as a character piece it is much more interesting. The arc of Salander in particular is very well done, and subtle. This is Salander’s film, and while Blomkvist is in a lot of it, he is really a supporting character in terms who has the more developed character arc. Fincher also delves into the characters to the extent that he does because this is only the first part to a trilogy (which Sony definitely wants to go forward with). This is not the story about finding out who killed Harriet Vanger – it is the story of Salander and Blomkvist and the beginnings of their relationship. And in doing this, Fincher has done a very good job. This version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo really brings nothing new to the mystery story, but explores the characters in a new and interesting way.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: David Fincher is one of the great American auteur directors working today. While this is not his best work (as he has made many excellent films), it is yet another very good picture. He does a brilliant job with the characters and the tone, which plays into the look of the film. The aesthetic of the film is very cold and hard (much like the exterior of Salander). Fincher relies on the wonderful performances to crack through a reveal the deeper emotions that these characters have in this seemingly inhospitable environment. Fincher works with the same team as he did on The Social Network. Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver a great and very tonally fitting score. It often seems to directly interact with the emotions of the audience, making them feel tension or uneasy or whatever emotion the scene on the screen dictates. It accompanies the narrative extremely well. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and production designer Donald Graham Burt both do fantastic work and get the look of the film perfect, matching the tone. Sweden comes across has a very harsh place. Burt’s design work also matches the personalities of each character in the film very well. When the audience sees their spaces, it feels very authentic. There are a lot of characters in the film, most small supporting roles. Yorick van Wageningen gives one of the better supporting performances. He is just despicable, but still seems to somehow give his character a full personality (and maybe even humanity). Steven Berkoff, Stellan Skarsgard and Christopher Plummer are all also very good in support. Daniel Craig presents Blomkvist as warm and confident, a good match for Salander – as she has almost only interacted with crass and abusive men that wish to oppress her. Rooney Mara is mesmerizing as Salander (which is surprising as she is playing a role that Noomi Rapace made iconic in 2009). The audience cannot wait for her to be onscreen again each time the narrative leaves her. She is powerful, confident and isolated yet there is a heart and love there in which she would very much like to share, but life has scalded her over and over. It is one of the most engaging performances of the year.

Summary & score: Much like with Let Me In and Let the Right One In, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as good (but different) as its Swedish counterpart. It gets the mystery narrative right, and dives a bit deeper into the characters becoming more of a character piece than a mystery thriller. 8/10


  1. Wonderful review.
    Just found this blog after looking for some movie blogs.

    Have seen this one for a while. I always enjoy seeing movies with Daniel Craig hope to see soon.

    Salander have to say sounds like a fascinating character.