The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Swedish adaptation of this story (and its sequels) was so effectively done that it's hard not to feel some hostility to a further version made so soon afterwards ostensibly just because English speakers don't like subtitles. That said, David Fincher, for all the unevenness of his work, has moments of unrivalled genius, and he has a fine cast at his disposal here, so there was still room to be excited. Sadly, this film has less of the tension and psychological insight of Zodiac and more of the ponderousness and self-importance of Benjamin Button.

Daniel Craig plays disgraced journalist Mikael, headhunted by a retired businessman (Christopher Plummer) who wants to find out the truth behind his niece's disappearance 40 years ago. Rooney Mara is the eponymous girl, Lisbeth, who ends up helping him (and, more often than not, actually taking charge of things). Lisbeth is troubled, a ward of the state who has met abuse at every turn and struggles to understand normal social interaction. Mara, the best thing about the film, handles the role well, effectively conveying difference and distance even though she's hampered by a script that makes few allowances for it, especially when it comes to her relationship with Mikael. Craig, for his part, approaches his role very directly, which at first makes the character dull and later highlights his vulnerability. There are moments when the actor breaks through and shows us what he's really capable of, but they are few and far between.

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The film's biggest problem is the structure of the adaptation. Fans of the novel may find this interestingly different from the previous version but those who haven't encountered the story before are liable to find themselves lost. The overall impression it leaves is of a longer film chipped away at by editors until too little connecting material remains. Skipping about between locations adds to the confusion and reduces the potential for claustrophobia in the central island setting, a key element of what is at base a locked room mystery.

It almost goes without saying that the island is presented beautifully and Fincher really captures the violence of the elements, the rawness of a Scandinavian winter. It's a shame there isn't more of this, but in a sense that's understandable as - much as he did in Zodiac and The Social Network - he's exploring the potential of mundane interior locations. This is particularly effective towards the end, which is why it's so disappointing that the pacing is off and Mikael's confrontation with the villain runs the gamut of clichés, what should be sinister becoming laughable as the villain mumbles on about his evil deeds, playing for time on the hero's behalf whilst other parts of the story catch up. Add to this a re-think of the final element of the mystery which is almost sickeningly twee and what initially showed promise ends up playing out like a second rate TV movie.

Then, of course, there is the key rape scene, something many viewers will approach with trepidation. This is a difficult scene for any director to get right, the horror of it being so important to character and plot (though something of the latter is lost here) but there being the risk of titillating viewers by showing too much. It's no real surprise that, in comparison with the powerful Swedish version, we see a lot more of Lisbeth's body and a lot less of her face, but overall it's not too bad. More striking is the degree of ambiguity with which it's approached, especially in contrast to a later scene where the tables are turned. There's a danger here of excusing the rapist. Narratively, it's potentially interesting territory, but it seems to be forgotten entirely as the film progresses, creating uncertainty about why it was there at all. Perhaps Fincher wishes to remind us that damage can make a person dangerous, but in doing so he makes her seem both less human and less vulnerable later on, when the feeling that both investigators are threatened is important to creating tension.

In the end, this isn't the obnoxious film it might have been but it isn't a very interesting one either. One is left with the feeling that this talented team could have been doing something much better with their time.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2013
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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo packshot
A journalist tries to solve a murder from the past with the help of a brilliant but damaged young woman.
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Director: David Fincher

Writer: Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson

Starring: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Ulf Friberg, Bengt C.W. Carlsson, Tony Way, Per Myrberg

Year: 2011

Runtime: 158 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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