The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Review

I went into “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” without any previous exposure to the source material. Outside of hype and what you can find in the media, I was a stranger to Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed “Millennium” series. So if you’re looking for a review asking why it was necessary to remake these films only a few years after the original Swedish versions, you’re looking in the wrong place.

If, instead, you’re looking for a review of an absolutely fantastic and well-done crime drama, then you have in fact come to the right place.

We can complain about the source material all we want, the fact of the matter is simply that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent film, adapted by some can’t miss Hollywood people and feature the perfect cast. Anything else is irrelevant, regardless of whether you’ve seen this specific movie before. And if you can get over that and simply accept that director David Fincher (The Social Network) and writer Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) simply wanted to make their own adaptation of the series, then there really shouldn’t be a problem.

As a matter of fact, it’s incredibly difficult to find any problems with this film. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a finely crafted crime drama about a journalist who gets wrapped up in a serial murderer’s life when he should probably be dealing with his own problems instead, and a girl whose life he manages to flip around as well.

James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, stars as Mikael Blomkvist, the aforementioned journalist who begins the film both disgraced and nearly bankrupted by a libel charge at the hands of a crooked businessman. While figuring out how to deal with his problems, he is contacted by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a rich businessman nearing the days he’ll likely spend on his deathbed, and devoted to finding out the truth about his long-lost and believed-to-be-dead niece, Harriet. Under the guise of writing Henrik’s memoirs, Mikael begins investigating her 40-year disappearance, interviewing family members and chasing leads, all while living on a small, desolate island in the northern part of Sweden.

Mikael eventually discovers a link between the case and a set of bible verses, and requests a researcher to help him on the case. Henrik offers him Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the girl who originally did a background check on Blomkvist and who we’ve been following along the way. Mikael convinced Lisbeth to join the case, and together, they eventually uncover the plot within the Vanger family, regardless of the personal danger it might bring them.

Although the bulk of the film is set around Harriet’s disappearance (and the eventual serial killings that come to light because of it), the real value in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is in the relationship the film fashions between Mikael and Lisbeth throughout the film. And what’s even more intriguing about it is the fact that that relationship only surfaces almost two-thirds the way into the film; certainly well within the second act. For much of the film, we witness Mikael working on the case, while Lisbeth goes about her daily, albeit abnormal life.

A ward of the state, Lisbeth has been deemed unfit to be considered an independent adult, despite being in her 20s, thanks to a violent past. Her legal guardian suffers from a stroke, so she has to deal with a new guardian, a scumbag lawyer who seizes her finances and forces her to give him sexual favours in exchange for money. Lisbeth, erm, deals with him via her own means, in what can only be described as a few of the most uncomfortable scenes in film of the year, and all for the sake of some great character development. While some may consider them to be sensationalist, they’re a really unique way to set up Lisbeth’s character, and it pays off later in the film when she’s called into action.

Her “mental incompetency”, while sad, has to be considered in certain ways valid after witnessing some of her actions and her clear trouble with commonly accepted social interaction. But she is who she is, and her willingness to accept that is what makes her such a memorable character, regardless of all the tattoos, piercings and funky hair. She recognizes what she wants and stops at nothing to get it, which is what eventually endears her to Mikael. Rooney Mara really transcends the appearance forced upon her to deliver a poignant and memorable performance as the character, a role that will certainly ensure her stardom in Hollywood. It’s a tough and ballsy role to take on, and Mara doesn’t miss a beat in her portrayal. If Hollywood was going for more of an esoteric performance, there are plenty of young actresses who could have taken the role. Mara instead makes certain that you couldn’t see anyone else as Lisbeth Salander.

On the other hand, Mikael is, at heart, a good man, but not without his own troubles. In fact, we’d say that it’s easier to accept Lisbeth’s troubles and vices because they’re a part of who she visibly is and because of how she eager she is to accept them. Mikael, on the other hand, puts up an appearance of a certain amount of self-righteousness, and it kind of makes him out to be a jerk at times. We’ve seen the tormented main character in many films and novels in the past, but Daniel Craig presents Blomkvist in such a way that makes him almost entirely original.

Craig has often been known as a strong leading man, his time as James Bond is certainly proof of that. But he’s not a one-dimensional actor. Craig can’t just as easily take on the role of a flawed character. But as much as Mikael Blomkvist is a main character in the film, the story doesn’t really center around him. Craig almost perfectly manages to be the center of attention in some scenes, while blending into the background when he isn’t the focus. If this makes at all any sense, he’s the kind of actor that can sort of modify his own stature, even within a specific role, to deliver the performance that’s asked of him, and that makes him the perfect choice for the character.

Beyond that, the two have a great supporting cast to play off, including Robin Wright, Christopher Plummer, and Stellan Skarsgard, who delivers an especially great performance as Martin Vanger, especially later in the film.

Behind the camera, everything borders on perfect. David Fincher doesn’t miss a beat, coming off his award-winning directorial job on The Social Network. His style is understated here, focused less on gimmicks and more on subtle angles and cinematography. Steve Zaillian does Larsson’s novels justice, delivering a script on par with his prior work, from Schnidler’s List to Gangs of New York to his most recent effort alongside Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball. And let’s not forget the score, from recent Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

If we could find any faults with the film, it would be in its ending, which seems to drag out almost as long as the last Lord of the Rings movie. There are several false finishes that follow the resolution of the Vanger plot. In definitely helps to further build Lisbeth’s and Mikael’s characters for the next two films in the series, but it also feels kind of unnecessary. While it may not take anything away from the film, finishing it with the end of the Vanger plot may have been the better ending, from where the viewer is sitting, anyway. And that’s kind of the biggest flaw with the film. The plot we spend most of the film trying to resolve boils down to little more than filler when you factor in what happens around it.

Again, I’m not really sure why people are complaining about this movie, with regards to the previous works in the “Millennium” universe. There were maybe a couple of times during the movie where I myself wondered why they would bother remaking it if they weren’t going to adapt the setting, names, or story for the American crowd, although that would have probably made for a difficult film to sell in certain respects. And that’s knowing that there are three Swedish films out there on the same material. What we have instead is a film which respects its source material and, from what’s being said, possibly even builds on it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great movie, and a great way to close the book on 2011 at the theatre, regardless of any complaints people might have with things that don’t even have anything to do with the film itself.. That’s why the film gets a 9 out of 10.