The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Movie Review

Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Rooney Mara in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' - © 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.
Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

Continuing my tradition of paying less respect to remakes that only seem to make sense from a financial perspective, or to cater to audiences unwilling to read subtitles, I’m “borrowing” as much from my original review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as possible (denoted by the greenish/bluish text). And here we go …

Trilogies seem to be all the rage these days and Sweden didn’t want to be left out of the mix – hence American audiences had the opportunity WAY BACK in 2010 to see late author Steig Larssen’s entire trilogy, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Sweden awarded the film their Oscar equivalent (the Guldbagge) of Best Film and Best Actress (Noomi Rapace). Surely, visions of dark, twisted sugar plums danced in the head of American director David Fincher, as he agreed to take on the English-language version immediately and get it released only 19 months after the original landed stateside.

The film is an often harsh and brutal look at an abused girl (Rooney Mara) with a talent for hacking, a photographic memory and a willingness to repay those who wrong her. She ends up joining forces with a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) now on the hunt for information about a girl who went missing 40 years ago. Together they navigate their way through a wealthy and dysfunctional family, most of whom seem to have had the opportunity and motive to commit that crime, as well as others that are uncovered along the way.

And when I say ‘crime’, what I should say is torture, rape and murder. Make no mistake, this film is not for the faint of heart and is at times disturbing and difficult to watch (not quite in “Irreversible” territory but very, very close). Fincher did not shy away much from keeping the book’s dark events from transpiring on-screen, if anything, this version is even more graphic and disturbing than what Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev presented. If I was so inclined, this is where the rant would go about the MPAA’s hypocrisy, giving Shame an NC-17 rating for showing male genitalia but leaving this at the hard-R stage because it does not (despite far more violent and non-compliant sexual acts). Hmm, NC-17 for “some explicit sexual content” vs. R for “brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language”. I rest my case, your honor.

Back to Fincher’s film, In order to keep things interesting, we have to become engaged in the characters and the cast was almost perfectly suited for the task. First and foremost, Mara fully embraced this challenging role – playing the victim and the predator with equal ability. The character is clearly struggling to be a good person but is still fighting against her past and present. Rapace’s depiction was more powerful but Mara came very close and there are no complaints about the performance, if anything it was what kept things together, being the real energy of this film.

Attempting to fight the good fight alongside Mara is Craig. He less than admirably balanced his character’s morality with a dogged pursuit for the truth. He is essentially the spokesperson for the audience and it is through him that we are supposed to maintain a sense of order and justice while nearly everyone else plays out our darker side. Alas, what Craig really does is replace most of Michael Nyqvist’s subtleties in the Swedish original with blandness.

As for the other film making aspects, this is where Fincher improves upon the original. The American remake is shot with a crispness the original did not have (though one could argue that’s a downside), and this is a beautiful film, wonderfully dark in tone, to look at. The pacing is much better here too, helped by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ score, though it is not nearly as seamlessly integrated as the work they did for Fincher on The Social Network.

Another confusing element is the opening credits sequence that looked like the start of the next Bond film, complete with a industrial rock cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. Not sure if Fincher was trying to say he wanted to make one eventually, was just so happy to have Daniel Craig in the cast, or was simply won over by someone with a computer and too much time on their hands. Whatever the case, it was completely tangential and just a bit ridiculous.

That aside, is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, be it the original or the remake, a film you see on a sunny day because you want a light getaway? No. Hell no. The material is challenging and definitely borders on sadistic pseudo-porn. However, there is a reason for all of it and while this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Fincher and his cast have delivered a film that doesn’t flinch at showing audience’s the darker sides of humanity. I’m looking forward to seeing the next two installments should they be greenlit, as the originals were not especially well crafted and there is a far greater opportunity to make better films (not that we NEED them).

If you never saw the original and never read the book, it makes a lot of sense that one will appreciate Fincher’s version a great deal more than those who have. It’s well-crafted, sports good performances for the most part and appeals to those who enjoy darker material. This is separate from the fact, yes FACT, that this remake doesn’t need to exist. Fincher merely got to play with pseudo-gothic tones as he likes to do and didn’t say anything different with his version than what was offered in Oplev’s take.

Unless you’re blind or illiterate, the original is the more apropos to watch; it’s free of some clumsy attempts at accents (because it had actual Scandinavian actors), it holds truer to the book, and is free of the hubris that good foreign films should be instantly remade for Americans either because they think it can be done better with more money behind it, or because there’s such a lack of originality in the studio system. All one can hope for is that the directors who choose to take on the projects realize that merely doing a rehash of the foreign film is uninteresting and useless to those who care enough to watch the almost universally better originals.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hits theaters on December 21, 2011 and is rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.

More on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:
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Trailer, News and Cast List