David Fincher’s adaptation of the first novel in Stieg Larsson’s popular ‘Millennium’ trilogy is basically the same as the original film released only a few years earlier. Of course, this is to be expected since both films deal with the same source material. What surprised me however, was just how similar they felt. The key word here is ‘felt’. Regardless of practical differences (of which there are many) I came out of both films with pretty much the same reaction. It begs the question then, was it really necessary to make an English version so soon after the Swedish original? Of course not, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a crime drama that follows discredited journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who is hired by Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the 40-year-old murder of his niece Harriet. Henrik is convinced that the murderer is someone within the family and is desperate for closure on the unsolved case.
Blomkvist is aided by Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) – the titular girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth is an extraordinary character who, in gothic attire, puzzles, perplexes and consistently intrigues whenever she’s on screen. She’s also incredibly damaged and, perhaps, mentally unstable (I think ‘insane’ may have been mentioned…). Mara succeeds in making the character her own despite Noomi Rapace’s breakthrough performance in the original, though I struggle to say if one portrayal is better than the other.
If the plot is akin to a ship then Blomkvist is the stoic rudder and anchor while Lisbeth is the unruly force of nature threatening to capsize it at any turn. She’s unpredictable yet dependable. Strong yet vulnerable. Fierce yet intelligent. Certainly, Lisbeth Salander is one of the more original characters to have graced the big screen.
That said, this is a bleak, dark movie. Be warned, there’s a graphic rape scene; the original Swedish title of the novel was ‘Men Who Hate Women’ – take from that what you will. Regardless, the interplay of stark, wintry landscapes and strong characterisation works wonders under Fincher’s direction, who has a strong track record in the genre with Se7en and Zodiac. This adaptation at least is much more assured and polished than the original, and it’s underpinned by an atmospheric albeit bland score from Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network).
At almost three hours long however, it might be surprising to hear that the film is too short. The plot is murky; it’s a whodunit with a brisk, speedy pace in which characters are introduced left, right and centre with little downtime to fully grasp the who’s who. The supporting cast lack development; it seems that there’s a never-ending list of suspects – at one point Blomkvist even says something to the effect of ‘it’s hard to keep track of everyone’. There’s no red herring and the ‘reveal’ is no surprise since the murderer is the only relevant character outside of the core duo to get any decent screen time.
Nevertheless, if a film goes for almost three hours and I’m still hankering for more then it must be doing something right. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is hence a great mystery that succeeds in sucking you into its icy world thanks to its memorable characters (Lisbeth!) and fast clip. That briskness might be double-edged but it nonetheless left me engaged from beginning to end.