Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Directed By: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick Van Wageningen
There’s been quite a bit of hype over this remake, hasn’t there? Well, apparently I’m one of few who’s never read Stieg Larsson’s books or seen the Swedish films and that proved to have a bit of an effect on my reception of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Perhaps if I were familiar with the source material, I’d have had an easier time following all the details, but, then again, this should be a review of David Fincher’s film and Fincher’s film alone, so my novice status makes this a purer evaluation.
After journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is convicted of libel and must forfeit his life savings, he’s contacted by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who wants Mikael to re-direct his investigating skills towards finding the individual responsible for his great-niece’s murder back in 1966. With no solid reason to turn down the offer, Mikael accepts and moves into a small cottage on the Vanger family’s island.
Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the young woman employed by Henrik’s lawyer to spy on Mikael before his hiring, is struggling with financial troubles. Parentless and a ward of the state, a court-ordered guardian maintains control over her finances and he refuses to hand over her cash without sexual favors. After putting her unconventional and incredibly resourceful skills to use to take care of that situation, she heads out to Hedestad to work as Mikael’s assistant.
Surprisingly, synopsizing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is rather easy. Sorting through the details? Far from it. However, even with all of the teeny tiny pieces to keep track of then put together, the film’s double narrative holds up rather well. For a good portion of the piece, Mikael and Lisbeth’s situations are entirely separate; he’s just starting to scratch the surface of the Harriet Vanger case and she’s busy terrorizing her guardian. It’s a lot of jumping back and forth, but it’s all rather seamless, never throwing off the pace of the film.
Also to the earlier portion’s benefit is the fact that we’re just getting into the investigation, so, naturally, there are far fewer details to keep track of and, therefore, the story is more digestible. Things start to get rocky on Mikael’s side as he begins looking into each and every family member. Not only do we need to know who these people are at present, but then we must match them to their former selves circa 1966, and, flatteringly, the script assumes we can figure out a lot on our own – but perhaps a bit too much.
On the other hand, Lisbeth’s situation is rather straightforward; she’s being jerked around and won’t stand for it. The tough stuff here is the nature of the material, which Mara sells exceptionally well making it all the more horrifying to watch. Mara is wildly likable as Lisbeth. The character is particularly intriguing as her appearance clearly has the power to turn some people off and then she’s got the coarse attitude to match. However, there’s something incredibly magnetizing about her. She’s extraordinarily bright, both as a computer hacker and as a detective all-around, and is just interesting to look at, creating a degree of curiosity. Then, rather than just turn the tables and make her a likable character, we’re given mere hints of her humanity, confirming she’s got something we should care about, but still leaving us itching for more. Before long, the film becomes far less about who killed Harriet and more about Lisbeth Salander.
The transition also has a lot to do with the fact that Mikael is a rather straightforward character. Unlike Lisbeth, his goals and course of action are quite predictable; it’s the clues not the character that keeps the audience invested in the mystery. However, when Lisbeth joins his hunt, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo practically takes on a different form. The duo makes a stellar team and gives the film a new zest. Sure, much of the material is of Lisbeth and Mikael, each in different locations, looking at old books or computer screens, but Fincher maintains a sense of urgency, which then culminates into an explosive finale. But, the problem is, that’s not really the finale. While it might not match the way the Swedish film or the book conclude, this Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trails on far too long, glossing over one particular plot point that should have been much more profound.
On the technical side, while the film is brimming with pristine costume and set design, as well as some mesmerizing imagery, the greyscale color palette can get a bit tiresome. There are also a few minor editing snags. A small handful of shot transitions don’t work as well as they should and for those with a keen eye for editing, they can be the slightest bit distracting.
But the biggest issue here is the story. If you’re able to endure a riveting mystery and don’t mind having a few plot details slide right by, the feature will undoubtedly entertain for the full two hours and 38 minutes, but, for folks like me, not being given sufficient resources to piece together the investigation on my side of the screen did become fairly frustrating. Regardless, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is worth watching for Mara’s performance alone.