A film review of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

A Film Review - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (originally titled Men Who Hate Women), has been a great success. Met with wild acclaim when the English translation hit shelves in 2008, the cult phenomenon that gathered behind the novel was ferocious. With a well received Swedish film version by director Niels Arden Oplev already in existence since 2009, the question to David Fincher would be why pour creative resources into an American remake a mere few years later? Then I viewed the original, and not only did I understand why an American remake would suffice, but I’m pleased that it was a Fincher production. His latest endeavour accurately captures and fully realizes the crime thriller meat of the novel through his neo-noir auteur aesthetic.

A master architect of thrillers such as Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999) and Zodiac (2007), Fincher knows the eerie underworld of crime and perversion which is evident in his sleekly composed vision of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Bringing the novel to its high-profile best by mirroring the cold climate of the Swedish setting and the disposition of the film’s main character Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), he presents a fast-paced, sharply edited, impersonal film. Set in the fictional Swedish town of Hedestad, the investigative expertise of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is acquired by Hennrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) an aging CEO akin to Swedish royalty. Blomkvist is hired to crack a 40 year-old cold case file concerning the inexplicable disappearance of Hennrik’s niece Harriett Vanger. The invitation to remain on the isolated Vanger island commences a type of “locked room mystery” where the events related to Harriet’s disappearance all occur on the Vanger estate. As Blomkvist becomes determined to uncover the “who” and “how” of the disappearance, the whole Vanger family falls under suspicion. The parallel story line of Lisbeth Salander’s cruel persecuted life is weaved together through delicate match cutting and sweeping crane shots fusing the main characters through a common agenda: to catch a killer of women.

Although, the central motivation behind the film is to catch Harriett’s killer, the scenes which tell Lisbeth’s story are the most captivating and unique. Traditional film noir incorporates the sexual persuasion of a femme fatale to weave her way as she thickens the plot. The specific exclusion of the femme fatale in Fincher’s neo-noir rendition points to the equal power relation between the two main characters, as both play a type of vigilante detective.  There are a plethora of American films about dark haired female leads who claim to have a vendetta that they are fighting against. The truth is that female vigilante characters stemming from mainstream Hollywood tend to become sexually objectified before they can execute their plan for revenge.  In Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the character of Lisbeth Salander is not sexy, nor beautiful or stylish. She is an androgynous, socially anxious ward of the Swedish state and a rape victim living on the fringe of society. Yet complete with flaw and inelegance, women idealize and stand by her, and Fincher remains organic in his depiction of this strong female character. Delivered through a construction of the unappealing, here, Salander is an angered female devoid of conventional sexuality with an acute investigative mind motivated by rancor for all men who take. A rare breed represented in American popular cinema. It’s all about her. Fincher’s Lisbeth Salander is not only the justification of why his remake is more effective and engrossing, it is refreshing to see an “ugly” female luring audiences with her mind and strength.

6 Comments A film review of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

  1. Michelle January 5, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    Thank you for this review. I am a huge fan on the Millenium series, and the original movies. To me, they are so perfectly done, it’s almost impossible to justify a remake, and I have my serious doubts an “americanization” of them is needed. I would hate to see Lisbeth pretending to be weak, or portrayed as pretty, seductive, sexy. I am deeply touched by this character, and cannot avoid to have my reservations since American remakes have made a joke out of some of my favorite movies. But your review shows me you do get the nature of the novels, and their characters, so it has been helpful. Thank you again.

  2. Christina Stimpson January 5, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    I also share a mild disdain for american remakes and most of the time view them as superficial (except for Michael Haneke’s Funny Games which was better in English than German). I really felt that Lisbeth was too “pretty” in the 2009 version. Fincher totally strips down this character to the point where I didn’t even recognize that it was Rooney Mara. A film will never come close to capturing what your mind imagines when you read a novel, but it can work with the essence of the story, and I think Fincher did a fantastic job. I also appreciated his casting mostly Eurpoean- american actors, except for Rooney Mara and Robin Wright Penn (who is kind of out of place here).

  3. adele January 11, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    I haven’t read the books, nor have I seen the previous version, but I absolutely loved the Lisbeth character. She is unlike any other female character i’ve ever seen on film. My only wish is that the film would have actually been more devoted to her storyline. It would have been so much more awesome to see her just kicking butt the way that she does. I found the murder mystery plot far less interesting. I wonder if anyone else felt the same?

  4. Christina Stimpson January 12, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    Although, I loved the mystery plot (i’m a sucker for a good thriller), I feel the same way about the Lisbeth storyline. I wanted more of her, especially Rooney Mara’s version of Lisbeth, who is far more engaging and magnetic on screen.

  5. Marcelo January 17, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    Read the books. The first book has more lines about Mikael Blomkvist than Lisbeth, even tho, Lisbeth is the main character that holds the whole trilogy. You’ll probably see more of her in the next movies (or just watch the swedish version – not “sweded” like Michel Gondry did on Be Kind Rewind :) )

  6. Christina Stimpson January 17, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    Thanks for your comment. I have read the books and watched the Swedish version. I would be quiet happy if the next director who tackles the trilogy would give us more Lisbeth. Like you mentioned she is the character that holds the whole trilogy together.

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