Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Stieg Larsson's (RIP) Millenium Trilogy is a phenomenal series of books that I fell in love with upon first reading them a few years ago. Likewise, the Swedish film adaptations are just as wonderful - and just as popular - as the books themselves. Now director David Fincher has brought us an American version of the first book in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Having such a strong connection to both the book and the original film, do I think Fincher's version was as successful? Let's see...

Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist takes a private job with millionaire businessman Henrik Vanger to solve the 40-year-old mystery of Henrik's missing niece, Harriet. Working with the odd computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Mikael soon uncovers a deeper mystery involving several murders around Sweden - a mystery that someone in the Vanger family doesn't want them to solve.

First of all, I'm very happy that they chose to keep the film set in Sweden though this is an American film. It would have been just as easy to change the location and Americanize the names, but that almost would not have felt right to me. With the popularity and admiration thrown at Larsson's books, I'm hoping that this choice was about respect - respect for an author who created such amazing stories, and then sadly died without ever knowing the effect his work would have on the entire world. Plus, these books seem to be pretty specific to and about Sweden itself, which is given much more emphasis in the second and third books.

David Fincher's films always have amazing title sequences and this one is no exception. It's all this weird stuff with people emerging from a black ooze and becoming black-ooze-sculpture-people themselves and the camera is moving around and more weird stuff gets made out of black ooze. I'm not quite sure what it has to do with the film itself but it was very cool to watch nonetheless.

Anyway. From then on, the movie plays out in a way that is very faithful to the source material. Actually, I read before this came out that the filmmakers would be doing a sort of different adaptation of the book rather than a remake of the movie; however, the first few short scenes are pretty much exactly like those from the original movie so I was a little confused for a while. But while the two films are very similar, Fincher's version seems much more streamlined and easier to follow. The clues to the mystery are revealed quicker and with less detail so as not to confuse the viewer. A few minor things, mostly stuff about Lisbeth's character, are left out, but if they continue on and adapt the last two novels, hopefully all that stuff will be filled in.

There are three distinct, key, and violent scenes from the original film that I was most interested to see what Fincher would do with: when Lisbeth is raped by Bjurman, when Lisbeth takes her revenge on Bjurman, and when Mikael is in what I call the basement of horrors at the end. All three scenes were wonderfully executed, and just as disturbing and difficult to watch as they should have been. The actor playing Bjurman is every bit as vile and repulsive as he needs to be in the scenes where he assaults Lisbeth so that her clever, if not equally violent, revenge on him is greatly welcomed. The strange harness-neck brace contraption that Martin puts Mikael in is a bit weird and not as visceral as the rope around his neck in the original, but that whole scene to me is so key for the character of Mikael. As a financial journalist, he went up against business bad guys, but now here he is face to face with pure evil, and not able to comprehend or understand it. It's a turning point for the arc of his character and I freaking loved this scene, in both films.

Here is a rare SPOILER warning for anyone who has not seen the movie. It's coming up in the next sentence...........

One change I was not too keen on was the reveal of what happened to Harriet. To have her living as her cousin Anita in London just... doesn't work. Henrik has been obsessed with Harriet's disappearance for like, half a century, right? If Harriet was just living a normal life, not in hiding, as Anita - a member of Henrik's family - are you saying that Henrik never once saw a picture of Anita/Harriet and realized who it really was? Sure, she said she hadn't had any contact with anyone in her family in a long time, but with Henrik's obsession and his resources, this should have been a fairly easy mystery to solve. Like, wouldn't Anita have been someone Henrik would want to talk to about Harriet in that 40 year span? Am I putting too much thought into this? Can't help it, sorry. 

I was feeling sketchy when I first heard that Daniel Craig was cast as Mikael, but that doubt was completely without merit. I didn't see James Bond once in this movie, which is probably what I was most worried about, and Craig actually became a wonderful Mikael. Especially in the above-mentioned scene, Craig is completely believable as the somewhat weak man that Mikael is in this situation, and his helplessness is again believable and heartbreaking. Knowing the end of the movie, I was a bit surprised at Stellan Skarsgard playing Martin Vanger, because he usually plays such nice, likable dudes in his other films (at least the ones that I've seen). It's hard to see him as this kind of character but he gives such a standout performance that that didn't really matter. Christopher Plummer and Robin Wright also give convincing supporting performances. However, I don't believe Joely Richardson for one second as a Swede. Just sayin'.

Then, of course, there is the big question. Who is the better Lisbeth Salander: Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara? For me, Noomi still wins it all around, even though Rooney does do an amazing job at physically acting and looking like Lisbeth. Her performance is brilliant and brave and will no doubt have an amazing affect on her career. But... I still like Noomi better. Her physical look is more appealing and the way she drastically changed her body to look like Lisbeth is truly creepy - she literally gave herself the body of a frail teenage boy, which is how Lisbeth is often described in the book. But it's Noomi's acting that really sold it to me. At times, Rooney seemed to show almost too emotion. Noomi was better at keeping the blank, emotionless face while still making it known to the audience that there is a lot going on inside Lisbeth's mind all the time. Rooney is still awesome, though, don't get me wrong. The way she does Lisbeth's quirky actions like stuffing her face with junk food and walking very quickly with her head bowed also sell the audience on this quite odd but equally endearing character.

Let's just say that I don't care what version we're talking about here, I love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and pretty much everything about it. I love the book, I love the Swedish film, I love the American film. Really, with a story like this it's hard to mess it up, and so far they haven't yet. Go out and see this movie - see it a few dozen times - and remember that box office numbers don't mean shit. This is beautiful and almost perfect filmmaking right here and believe me, you don't want to miss out on this.

Quick sidenote: Look at this poster I found for the movie! That is fucking hot!

Also, if you would like to vote for/recommend my next review, please do so by midnight on Wednesday, April 11th!


  1. I would just like to add that I too find that poster to be fucking hot!

  2. I loved the Fincher version. I haven't yet read the novel or seen the Swedish film, but they are on my list.

    Speaking of Craig as Bond, here's the reason he was great casting (apart from the fact that he is awesome in general): in this movie, he is essentially playing a Bond girl, with Lisbeth herself taking the role of Bond. I think you feel a little of that subconsciously while watching, and it makes for an interesting vibe.

    I hope they make the sequels, but it looks like it isn't going to happen.

  3. well-made and cool-looking but I prefer the Swedish versions, mainly because of Noomi. Rooney's performance is good but I didn't like her version of Lisbeth. Noomi's Lisbeth was tough and kick-ass, Rooney's Lisbeth felt weak and 'too normal'.

    btw, that poster...tres hot!!

  4. I also really like both versions of the film and as you say Finchers version is a little more accessible. I was very confused about the whole Harriet/Anita thing and also felt it didn't really work. I'm not really sure which actress I prefer in the role of Lisbeth, I'm just pleased that two very awesome talents have emerged from this franchise. Also I still think the teaser trailer for this film is one the best trailers in history and still sends a chill down my spine, largely due to Trent Reznors excellent soundtrack, Great Review :D

    They Made Me Do It

  5. I enjoyed the film myself and how it was interpreted in America. While I question whether or not Coca-Cola and Marlboro's exist in Sweden and are written out in English, I still thought the movie was excellent. I agree 110% about the fact that Bjurman was portrayed spot on as the disgusting creep he is. First as he exchanges money for sexual favors, then with the rape, and then when Lisbeth gets revenge.

    Speaking of which, Lisbeth was portrayed really well by Rooney Mara, as Daniel Craig was great as Blomkvist.

  6. @Erik: I know, right?!

    @Bryant: For sure see the Swedish film if you loved Fincher's version. It's a little bit more drawn out, but the actors are freaking amazing and it has the same dark and gritty tone.
    Oh wow, I never thought of Craig being the Bond girl in this movie, but that is so right. Mikael is a smart guy, but he is physically weak - unlike poor Lisbeth, who has dealt with a lot of violence in her life. It's natural that she would take the role of Bond in this situation.

    @Maynard: Yeah, I would have to say that although this one was really well made and everything, I'm still partial to the Swedish films (maybe because I've watched them all about 10 times each and that's just what I'm used to). Noomi is a better Lisbeth, but one thing I love about the original is how good and physically perfect (based on the character descriptions in the novel) every supporting character is. Henrik, Bjurman, Martin - all these actors are beautiful to watch.

    @Ashley: Yes! I was so excited to see Trent Reznor's name for the soundtrack. He always adds a level of kick-assedness to any movie he's working on.

    @Josh: Bjurman is definitely the asshole of the whole piece - even though Martin runs a close second - and both actors who played him did a great job with a most unlikable character. I commend them!