Unreal Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Antihero is a tough concept to define. They’re supposed to be the opposite of a traditional protagonist, a flawed creature that you would normally never suspect as someone you’d root for. But usually that just means that the chiseled male leading your film is slightly more tortured than usual, and true anti-heroes are hard to find.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has its handsome lead, drawing on James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, to fill that role. But as this is in effect the second time I’ve seen this film, (the Swedish version counts as the first time more or less), I’ve realized this story is much more so about little Lisbeth.

Lisbeth Salander might be one of the greatest creations of modern literature, and now, with the help of David Fincher and Rooney Mara, been translated to one of the greatest film characters in recent memory. She’s a black hole of chaos in an already troubled world, but a combination of intelligence, rage and somehow, vulnerability makes her one of the most interesting antiheroines I’ve ever seen.

She’s the shining star of Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo, his retelling of the bestselling book by Stieg Larsson, the first in a trilogy. It’s already been made into one film, a Swedish interpretation with Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace preceding Craig and Mara’s Mikael and Lisbeth.

Mikael Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist convicted of slander, hired by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve the murder of his missing niece, Harriet. Lisbeth Salander is hired by the family to perform Blomkvist’s background check, but eventually signs on as his apprentice in solving the case, where the clues all point to one of the Vanger family members who were on the island that day.

Right off the bat, this film suffers from a problem that many quality films endure recently. It’s one thing to remake old films, but this new trend of re-shooting recent foreign movies for American audiences is troubling. It makes it much harder to judge the quality of a film, and even more difficult to enjoy it when you feel like you’ve seen it just a few years earlier. It happened recently with another Swedish film, Let The Right One In, where even though the remake, Let Me In, was quite good, it forever remained in the shadow of the original. Even a movie like Watchmen suffers from the “seen it already” problem as it faithfully recreates the graphic novel to such a degree that you feel like you’ve seen it all before as you’re watching.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s answer to this problem is to just make your film the best damn version of the story you could ever possibly hope to see. Early on, it’s easy to think that you’ve seen it already. But in the hands of a talent like Fincher, even if we’ve seen the whole mystery unfold before, his vision makes any other telling pale in comparison.

Everything from the James Bond meets American Horror Story twisted opening credits sequence to the framing of each carefully selected shot to the haunting score from Trent Reznor puts the film on a level that the Swedish original simply didn’t have.

But by far the most significant contribution to his reinvention of the story is his casting. I appreciated Daniel Craig much more than Nyqvist as Blomkvist, who brings a gravity that just seemed missing before. As I’ve mentioned however, the real focus is not on Blomkvist, it’s Salander that steals the show, in the book, in the first movie and now in this one as well.

Fincher’s decision to cast Rooney Mara as the vicious Salander is as strange as Nolan wanting Heath Ledger as the Joker, but it returns equally powerful, albeit unexpected results. This is Kate Mara’s little sister, the one who dumped Mark Zuckerberg in the beginning of the Social Network. To see her transformed into this…unholy force is nothing short of phenomenal, and the depth she brings to the character is above all else what makes this film great.

Noomi Rapace did a fine job as Salander, but there was something overtly terrifying about her. Something outwardly aggressive that always made it seem like she was the one in control at every point of the film. Mara instead brings a fragility and vulnerability to the part that was missing previously. She lacks the sharp cheekbones and piercing eyes of Rapace, replacing them with soft (albiet heavily pierced) features and doe eyes.

This makes it all the more gratifying when she flips a switch and becomes the genius, antagonistic sociopath that ties her rapist down and blackmails him while etching a permanent reminder of his misdeeds on his chest. It’s enough to make an audience stand up and cheer.

Fincher has also made the plot points in the film far easier to digest. Maybe it’s the way he structured them, or maybe it’s just the English, but unlike the Swedish film where I was a bit unclear as to how things were progressing or wrapping up, there’s no reason to get lost here, as everything is laid out plainly and the grand mystery seems a lot more impressive viewing it this time around.

There are still story issues that aren’t quite the fault of the filmmakers. It takes far too long for Salander and Blomqvist to join forces, making the first section of the film drag. Also, research isn’t too terribly exciting, and an almost three hour movie that mostly focuses on such pursuits can seem rather slow at times, even if it’s punctuated by occasional bouts of anal rape.

But through it all, there’s a fantastic story being told here by a talented director and a cast that brings it to life in a way we haven’t seen before, despite the existence of the previous film. Rooney Mara deserves the highest praise for her stunning portrayal of Lisbeth, and I genuinely can’t wait to see her finish out the trilogy in the instantly iconic role.

4.5 out of 5 stars


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  1. This review makes me excited to see this movie..

    I absolutely loved the swedish film Let The Right One In… The American version was almost spot on, except for one biggggg change: they started the movie with the end of the Swedish version. This made it much more obvious of the two’s strange relationship and set a totally different tone for the movie. I think they wanted to give it a faster pace and more initial excitement (obviously American audiences can’t sit through a movie without it).
    I am so glad I saw the foreign version first.

  2. Sounds like an excellent movie, but I’m not going to watch it. Ever since Daniel Craig screwed up one of my favorite movie series, I’m banning him for life.

  3. Having recently read the book and watched the Swedish movie, I think its safe to say that this product is far superior to the Swedish version. In both faithfulness to the source material (there’s only one big twist) and just entertainment value the Fincher version is far superior for me.

  4. I was watching the new Sherlock Holmes(which I really liked) and kept saying “who the hell is this fine palm reader chick with the piercing cheek bones?” Then I realized she was Noomi Rapaci couldn’t believe it at first.

  5. Good review of the film. I might honestly give it a shot.

    But this line:

    “Also, research isn’t too terribly exciting, and an almost three hour movie that mostly focuses on such pursuits can seem rather slow at times, even if it’s punctuated by occasional bouts of anal rape.”

    It’s a somewhat insulting assumption of movie-viewing sensibilities; it implies that the thriller aspects are so dull that they make anal rape into a bit of a joke.
    I’m not offended by the line. I actually burst out laughing; therein lies the problem.
    This is a solid review that comes crashing down because of an awkward sentence.

    It reminds of Transmetropolitan, where the standard for entertainment is barbaric (Anthrax Cat, unmentionable porn) to our current standard, but they don’t find it shocking (in the comic) or even remotely entertaining because of how jaded everyone has become.
    Strange tangent, yes, but it is the rationale for why I find that line to be a bit insulting.
    Don’t take it as an attack; I just found that sentence to be incredibly distracting.

    I’d say get an editor for some of your longer posts. Could be helpful in maintaining the proper tone you are obviously capable of convey.

    @ Cal, Noomi Rapace is the lead for Prometheus. Check out the trailer to see if it tickles your fancy.

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