The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

"You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies. The most detestable collection of people you will ever meet. My family.""You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies. The most detestable collection of people you will ever meet. My family."

“You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies. The most detestable collection of people you will ever meet. My family.”

If there is one book series I could recommend over all others it’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo written by the late Stieg Larsson. This adaptation by director David Fincher is not the first of the acclaimed series, the trilogy that Stieg wrote was first adapted to screen in Larsson’s native country and dialect of Sweden with this version serving as a more Americanized account of Larsson’s brilliant novel. For David Fincher, as a director and visual storyteller,The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is right up his alley as far as psychological thrillers go. Fincher’s adaptations are pretty spot on too, For the most part, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is ripped from the pages, leaving no major plot point out. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an intricately weaved spiderweb of a murder mystery. The novel is rich with small details sprinkled here and there and screenwriter Steven Zailian for the most part includes most of them to give the English adaptation a true to the novel feel to it. On one hand there’s Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who’s reputation as an investigative journalist is shattered after a legal battle, and on the other is Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Lisbeth is a highly skilled hacker with an eidetic memory and an unusual human that is constantly backed into a corner but is smart enough to be 10 steps ahead of everyone else around her. 

Lisbeth’s life hasn’t been easy – she’s quiet and antisocial, and under a guardianship from the state where her guardian Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen) threatens to institutionalize her if she doesn’t provide sexual favors. Dark and deeply disturbing is an understatement, especially with how Lisbeth exacts revenge on Nils. As much as you may want to shield your eyes and look away during those borderline tortuous scenes, you can’t, the revenge is ultimately justified in Lisbeth’s mind. Given her smaller frame and build, it’s easy to root for her under these circumstances. Its basically torture porn but given Fincher’s track record, the imagery in those scenes are visceral to ingest.

“Your boss, Armansky, he tells me you only do jobs that interest you. So I suppose I should be flattered. You gonna sit down? He also says that you’re the one he goes to when the job is sensitive. That’s the word he used. Sensitive. I’m gonna use illegal. Because that’s what it was when you hacked into my computer. I’m not gonna do anything about that. I could, but I won’t. What I’m gonna do is tell you a story and if it entertains you maybe you’ll decide to help me research further. And if not’ll do the washing up and you’ll never see me again. Here, you should eat that.”

At its core, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is equally all about survival and revenge. Both themes are handled accordingly where both are seemingly interchangeable. Both Mikael and Lisbeth are looking for revenge and are survivors simultaneously. Mikael wants revenge against Wennerström (Ulf Frigerg) for his reputation which Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) is happy to provide. 

The murder mystery and romance within The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just two other elements added to the mix. With so much happening all at once between Lisbeth and Mikael the murder element shuffles between being in the background and foreground of the central story. There are points when liberties have to be taken – So much of Larsson’s novel is squeezed into the film that at times the film feels convoluted. Especially Mikael’s relationship with his business partner and co-editor of their magazine Erika Berger (Robin Wright).  The mix of all l three themes is healthy but when the moment comes for one to step into the spotlight, all the focus and energy is placed there. Depending on how you interpret all the information, the twist can come off as predictable especially given that every character has their own agenda. 

In all actuality, anyone in the Vanger family could have committed the crime in killing Harriet (Joely Richardson) and Larsson’s novel provides motive for every individual in the family while not focusing on any specific character. How this family survived this long is a mystery in itself. Each member is vile and pure evil with the exception of a few. This adaptation however doesn’t give enough time to focus on the entire family, so the lens is pointed directly at Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgård) the current CEO of Vanger Industries and Harriet’s brother. There are moments when its blatantly obvious who the villain is but as a whole, the mystery element is held together pretty tightly. 

“Do you doubt anything I’ve said? Do you doubt the reports that have followed me around all my life? What do they say, if you could sum it up? They say I’m insane. It’s alright, you can nod. Because it’s true. I am insane. Nod.”

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fits Fincher’s style with how he tackles darker source material. Each scene a sense of tension and anticipation is built to the point that you wish the next scene would come as soon as the current one starts because of the breadcrumb clues that are given. In that regard, it’s exactly like the book. Reading the books, I couldn’t put them down, they’re that gripping to the point where you’re hooked. That type of anticipation to see the next scene is reminiscent of how the Coen Brothers direct their films but the Coen’s use a slower more controlled pace. Fincher’s pace is quicker jumping from character to character, but it never feels overwhelming when there are breaks in the suspense. 

How Mikael and Lisbeth’s relationship evolve over the course of the film is fascinating. Going from compete strangers and “projects” to being romantically involved works in the novel as well as it does here. With how fragile a state of mind Lisbeth is constantly in; she is able to open up to Mikael because of their striking similarities. Both Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara nail their characters personalities and motivations perfectly and it shows through their chemistry with one another. Fincher always get the best performances from his actors and actresses since majority of the time they castings are spot on.

Rooney Mara is the perfect casting for Lisbeth. Lisbeth is such an incredibly unique character that Rooney is engulfed by her spirit. 

Fincher’s directing style is but one way the film builds suspense and tension. Previous collaborator’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score (who scored The Social Network) perfectly add onto the anxious and panic driven emotional weight. Their brilliant score gives off the feeling that you’re being hunted too along with Mikael. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a faithful enough of an adaptation that never derails from the source material. It’s only natural for certain liberties to be taken to fit the story but screenwriter Steven Zailian captures the essence and spirit from Larsson’s novel. Each performance from top to bottom is stellar and with how delicate and intricate the plotlines are, Fincher makes it all feel simple enough to follow the threads.

So, tell me, have you seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is written by Steven Zaillian, directed by David Fincher is Rated R and has an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was released on December 20, 2011 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 38 minutes. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo can be bought by online retailers like iTunes, Amazon and Google. 4 out of 5. 

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