You know her name. Lisbeth Salander, a.k.a. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has captured the hearts and minds of readers all over the world. 65 million of them to be exact, and counting. She has been widely touted as one of fiction’s most fascinating heroines to have emerged in a long time, and those who have read the books could hardly disagree. With every great book lies a movie. In this case, there are two. One was made rightfully in Sweden. The other was directed by the great David Fincher. So how does the English adaptation stack up against its Swedish predecessor? I am so glad you asked.
Harriet Vanger has been missing for over 40 years. Her family has long since moved on, except her grieving uncle, Henrik Vanger, who continues to search for the truth. He enlists the help of Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who has recently been convicted of libel. Mikael reluctantly agrees to help solve the murder that has plagued Henrik for decades. At first, Mikael is skeptical, but soon enough he realizes that Harriet’s disappearance may not be an isolated incident. Mikael is then aided by Lisbeth Salander, a gifted researcher with more than just an attitude problem. Together, they scour through a labyrinth of deceit, all of which trails back to the corrupt Vanger family.
The original Swedish film, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, managed to compress the book’s lengthy plot, which presented a stripped down, straightforward narrative that jumped right into the story. For loyal fans of the books, however, the film cut out some crucial scenes, omitted a few notable characters, and skipped over several key plot elements. In that regard, I believe the story deserved another re-telling. Who better to handle a cultural phenomenon than David Fincher (see Fight Club or The Social Network, the latter being one of my favorite films of all time). After directing neo-noir masterpieces such as Se7en and Zodiac, Fincher seems comfortably at ease being back in killer-thriller territory. With Dragon Tattoo, Fincher unleashes a rage-filled mayhem set to a bleak portrait of human nature.
One of the key differences that sets Fincher’s version apart from the Swedish film is the title sequence. Set to a blistering cover of Led Zepplin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ and featuring a series of dark, abstract imagery filled with oozing black tar awesomeness, the opening minutes alone succeeds in eliminating any preconceived expectations of the film and reminds us that this is not a remake. This is an adaptation through the eyes of David Fincher.
Fincher has always been a pioneer at showcasing the darker side of human nature and he tests himself here. Right from the first frame of the movie, Fincher conveys a sense of overwhelming dread. Each scene then presents a gut-wrenching anxiety, creating an unbearable tension that sits with you through the movie. And just when you can’t handle it anymore, the violence ratchets up the tension even further. This is where Fincher proves himself as a virtuoso director by adding his signature visceral style. From the film’s rape scene, where a vulnerable Lisbeth is taken advantage of by her sadistic guardian, to the moment of reveal where Blomkvist comes face to face with the killer, the violence is shockingly graphic yet brutally captivating. These sequences of violence are so unbelievably stylish that I’m ashamed to say I enjoyed them. But of course, these scenes aren’t envisioned for the sole purpose of exploiting violence or rape. Anyone who’s read the books knows that these are some very key scenes that set off the events of The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
The movie is not without it’s faults. In the book, there are numerous plot twists that drive the story to its conclusion. It is through these plot points that keeps the reader on edge, and keeps them coming back for more. In the film, these plot twists aren’t quite as satisfying as it is in the novel. Movies have to rely heavily on dialogue in order to inform the audience. Larsson’s narrative successfully balanced character arcs and story elements, something that can’t necessarily be done in a film adaptation of this scale. But Fincher prevails by staying true to the source material as possible and that’s more than enough.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is an engrossing, first-rate thriller that packs one hell of a violent punch. But what makes this movie truly cinematic are the performances. Daniel Craig stars as the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist. He’s someone who’s distraught with his life, yet remains fully committed to his career and highly respectful of the people he works with. We come to accept Craig as Blomkvist simply because he uses his intellect, rather than instinct, to solve a case. But the true gem of the movie is Rooney Mara – the girl who won the pivotal role of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Stepping into Lisbeth Salander is no easy feat, especially after Noomi Rapace’s fearless portrayal in the original Swedish film. But Rooney succeeds by capturing Lisbeth’s vulnerability. In between moments of sheer arrogance, sweet revenge and dark humor, we see a frail human being who’s completely damaged on the inside, yet very internally driven. These moments are very brief, but Rooney’s precision on character allows her to create a wholly original interpretation. And Rooney nails it. Once her character comes into focus, you can’t take your eyes off her. I just wished that she had more screen time, but all that will change in the next film, if there ever is one.
Fincher’s film is an undeniably loyal adaptation that will please fans of the books for sure. Though it falls short of his previous works, the film is still a fascinating piece of modern cinema that demonstrates Fincher’s precision on atmosphere and storytelling. Even if you haven’t read the books, the movie is easily accessible to mainstream audiences. Overall, it’s one of the better film adaptations I’ve seen in a long time. Although Hollywood will always fall back on books whenever they run out of ideas, it’s nice to know that someone out there cares enough to do these books adequate justice. End verdict: go see it. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a brutal cinematic experience that you’re not likely to forget.