So to start off this review I must get something off my chest: I have not read the books. Well, to be absolutely truthful I have read the first twenty pages of the first book in a well meaning but ultimately futile attempt to read the book before the movie came out. For fans of the book, or at least the first twenty pages of the first book, don’t worry because the first ten minutes of the movie are a very good adaptation of those first twenty pages. For everyone else out there, here is my review.
Released posthumously in 2005, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels have become a surprise worldwide sensation leading to a miniseries, a popular and well received Swedish movie (along with its sequels of questionable quality), and finally this inevitable American adaptation. Fans of the books and original movies all over the world must have absolutely pillaged the internet like a horde of angry vikings when the american adaptation was announced, but the tremendously talented David Fincher being attached to it calmed them down a bit. David Fincher is known as a master of the mystery movie, the man directed both Zodiac and Se7en, and when you get down to it the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a ostensibly a murder-mystery. I’m glad to say for fans and newcomers alike that Fincher lives up to his reputation and has delivered a great adaptation of this immensely popular book that is both gripping and stylish.
And stylish it is. Fincher is firing on all guns here when it comes to the style of the movie. When one needs watch no further than the title sequence, a borderline music video for Trent Reznor and Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, to understand just what kind of tone and style Fincher is going for. Fincher’s style in the movie emphasizes start contrasts and duality. There is black and white, loud and quiet, warm and cold. These are the types of things his shots focus on, and every shot uses a different contrast to build the tone and mood of the movie, and it works very well. Fincher is at the top of his game here in his directing, but the style of the movie cannot be attributed to him alone.
Daniel Craig turns in one of his better performances as Mikael Blomkvist, an extremely talented reporter who is down and out on his luck. While he may be playing another shade of the Craig we have all come to know and love, he is also a very vulnerable character, a side to Craig we have seen little of during his career. Blomkvist is a character who is at the bottom of a deep rabbit hole: his life savings are drained, his reputation ruined, and his marriage a distant memory. He desperately latches onto the investigation of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger so that he can have some kind of redemption after his horrible humiliation. Despite this Blomkvist is still very confident and talented and Craig flows between confidence and vulnerability seamlessly. Despite this performance however, real praise should be given to Rooney Mara as nearly iconic Lisbeth Salander.
Rooney Mara is a newcomer to the world of acting and her existence has really has only come into the public consciousness after she was briefly in the Social Network. Mara takes a much larger role here, and one that is far more difficult to play. Lisbeth is a deranged and damaged character who suffers a terrible happening early in the movie. Scenes that Rooney needed to act in would have forced more seasoned actresses out of the role (the actor who played in the scene with her broke down after it and locked himself in his room for a day) but Mara commits completely. Being a gothy/punked up chick super-hacker with a mohawk and a leather jacket is a description of a character whom I would love to hate. As a character Lisbeth flirts with the line between ridiculous and serious. With a lesser actress at the helm Lisbeth would have been absolutely unlikeable and completely ridiculous. Luckily the character, and with her the movie, is saved by Rooney’s acting. She is completely unrecognizable as the girl leering angrily at Jesse Eisenberg from across a table at the beginning of the Social Network, she completely owns the role and becomes Lisbeth Salander, and for that I believe she at least deserves a nomination for best supporting actress. The other actors in the movie turn in good performances too, but Craig and Mara really carry the movie on their shoulders.
The final key to the style of the movie is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score, a 173 minute opus (the movie is only 158 minutes long mind you). Reznor and Ross put their all into the score, one that I feel surpasses even their efforts on the score for the Social Network. The music fits Fincher’s style perfectly, a primary reason Reznor, Ross, and Fincher have continued to collaborate. From the cover of Immigrant Song that plays during the opening title sequence, to the quiet strings playing in the background during the brief moments of peace, to the loud and NIN reminiscent garage rock which plays during the action scenes, the score just sets up every shot Fincher makes perfectly. Reznor and Ross have earned their Oscar again, if not at least a nomination and I look forward to seeing what their future collaborations will produce.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is by no means a perfect movie. Despite the incredible talent and commitment from the production team, the script could have used perhaps one more rewrite. Everything is there loud and clear, from the themes of violence and the relations between men and women to the complex and thickly woven mystery. It isn’t a bad screenplay, but it could have been shortened some. Certain parts of the movie drag on for a little too long, and overall the movie could have been ten or maybe fifteen minutes shorter. The third act comes off as particularly in need of some revision since a large number of significant events happen in a relatively short amount of time, making the various resolutions to the running storylines feel cheap. The ending is very close to the book I’m sure, but this is a case where it may have been better to make some deviations, if only to make the flow of the third act work a little better.
Despite the problems with the script the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is still a great movie. It features the best original soundtrack of the year, magnificent lead performances, and a style that only Fincher could produce.