Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Review by Bob Ignizio

Even though I think he tends to be a tad overrated by the fanboy set, David Fincher's films are always at least worth checking out. Okay, maybe not always. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is just plain awful, but other than that, I've found his body of work to be at least interesting, and on occasion (ZODIAC, THE SOCIAL NETWORK) flat-out excellent. And yet despite my generally positive feelings towards the auteur, I was frankly dreading seeing his adaptation of the best selling novel THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Why, you ask? Because I had already seen and been blown away by the Swedish version from a mere two years ago. 

In terms of plot, both films are fairly similar. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a magazine publisher who has just lost a libel case for an exposé he wrote about a corrupt businessman. While taking a sabbatical from the magazine, he is approached by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) with an offer to do some private investigating. Almost 40 years ago, Henrik's niece Harriet disappeared. Henrik believes the girl was murdered, and wants Blomkvist to find the culprit, most likely a member of the Vanger family.
Before hiring Blomkvist, Henrik had the man's background checked by computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Salander only takes jobs that interest her, and Blomkvist interests her enough that she continues to keep tabs on him even after the assignment is over. Lisbeth sports a goth punk look with numerous piercings, and is not particularly skilled in the niceties of human interaction. Having been judged incompetent by the state as a child, her finances are under the control of her guardian Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), a man who doesn't have his ward's best interests at heart.

I don't want to get into spoiler territory for anyone unfamiliar with the story. Suffice it to say that Lisbeth and Mikael wind up working together on the mystery and eventually discover that Harriet's disappearance is linked to the murder of several other women. The closer they get to the truth, the greater the danger they face.

For all the similarities in plot, each film emphasizes certain aspects while downplaying others. Fincher's version focuses more on Blomkvist, and also softens and humanizes Lisbeth a bit. In both films the casting of Blomkvist is fine, but reflecting each film's choice of which character to focus on, Craig is somewhat more compelling in the role than Michael Nyqvist. The bigger difference is in the role of Lisbeth Salander. Rooney Mara acquits herself well here, but there's just no competing with Noomi Rapace's iconic portrayal of the character. In terms of style and tone both films are very different, as well, with Fincher's vision considerably more muted, artsy and serious than the vivid and pulpy vibe of the Swedish version.

One thing both films do have in common is their central theme about the sexual violence men commit against women (the novel's original Swedish title translates as “Men Who Hate Women”). In depicting that sexual violence and then presenting Lisbeth as some sort of avenger for it, the film teeters dangerously close to LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT/I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE exploitation territory. This sort of rape/revenge scenario no doubt offers a kind of catharsis for some while coming across as vile and insensitive to others. A lot depends on how the material is handled, and in that respect I think the Swedish version does a slightly better job. Both films are probably about as graphic, but something about Fincher's depiction just felt a little more leering and misogynistic to me.

While Fincher's GIRL has its merits, the grim seriousness with which he treats the material eventually wore on me a bit. Other issues I have are less significant, and most likely due to having see the other version of the film first. My understanding is that Fincher's version in some ways reflects the novel more accurately. I haven't read the book myself so I can't say definitively. But fidelity to the source material is not necessarily that important when you're dealing with a movie. It's about what's on the screen, and whether that works or not. And for the most part, Fincher's film works for me. Just not as well as the Swedish version. 3 out of 4 stars.


  1. I felt like this was a superior treatment and the only real criticism is that it arrives too soon off the heals of the excellent original. I'm surprised you find Fincher overrated. All of his work, even Benjamin Button, is masterful on a technical level, if not more.

  2. I thought 'Benjamin Button' was a second rate 'Forrest Gump' (and I didn't care much for 'Gump'). Fincher is a great visual stylist, but I think he sometimes lays it on a bit too thick.

    Other than 'Button' and 'Alien 3' (which he can't be held responsible for) I've liked all his movies. I just don't think that 'Se7en' or 'Fight Club' are the modern day classics many hold them up as. 'Zodiac' was the first movie where, in my opinion, Fincher really put his talents in the service of the story he was telling, and to me that remains his best work.

    Which version of 'Girl' people like better is largely going to come down to taste. For me, I just like the more straight forward approach of the original. Niels Arden Oplev isn't a great director, but he's a good one working with a great story and a great character. And the decision to focus more on that character (Lisbeth) is the other, and to cast her so perfectly, is the other reason I prefer the original. Rooney Mara did much better than I expected given her lackluster work in the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' remake, but she just doesn't have the same presence in the role as Noomi Rapace did.

  3. I actually agree with you about Fincher, esp. about Zodiac being his masterpiece. 7 and Fight Club have taken on a life they don't deserve, but are still great entertainments.

    I found Mara to be great, but Rapace will always be TGWTDT. Now, I'm actually anticipating the American sequels because the Swedish Played with Fire and Kicked the Hornets Nest were not of the quality as that first entry.

  4. I actually found Fincher's less confusing than the original Swedish film. I really didn't want to like this as much as the original being a Swedophile and not a fan of unnecessary remakes, but I think this one actually moved at a faster clip than the original. Craig's Nyqvist was less a cardboard cutout than his Swedish counterpart and I am glad Fincher expanded the ending to make things more clear what Lisbeth was doing in a blonde wig. I thought Mara's performace was stronger than you give her credit for. She and Fincher obviously wanted to bring a more human quality to Lisbeth. You can't root for someone you don't like - a problem I had with Rapace's Lisbeth. A couple of issues I did have were minor things that someone who isn't familiar with the Swedish language probably didn't notice: 1) All the newspaper articles you see are in Swedish EXCEPT the ones you're supposed to pay attention to, which are then in English. 2) Using Swedish words for "Hello", "Thank you" (among a few others) when every other bit of dialogue in the film was in English.

  5. I just saw it and im still confused about the ending does anyone know whos money she was transfering in the end??

  6. Yes, I can answer that for you. It's not the main plot of the film, but still warrants a...


    it was Wennerstrom's (the guy who set up Blomkvist in the beginning) money.


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