THE STORY – Disgraced financial reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) finds a chance to redeem his honor after being hired by wealthy Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve the 40-year-old murder of Vanger’s niece, Harriet. Vanger believes that Harriet was killed by a member of his own family. Eventually joining Blomkvist on his dangerous quest for the truth is Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an unusual but ingenious investigator whose fragile trust is not easily won.
THE CAST – Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen & Joely Richardson
THE TEAM – David Fincher (Director) & Steven Zailian (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 158 Minutes
Everyone knows that book-to-film adaptions are difficult. Plot condensation and a lack of internal monologue will always have audiences debating which medium better serves the story. Remakes are also difficult, as the original film was usually successful, inviting the question of whether the remake was necessary. But, book-to-film adaptions that are remakes? Those are basically impossible. But Lisbeth Salander is one of those characters of whom people cannot get enough. She’s fascinating, mysterious, intelligent, a lover of everything dark, an outlaw, and a feminist hero. She’s the character that took the world by storm in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” book series and brought to life by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish film adaptions. And these films were claimed to be near-perfect adaptions of the character and novels, earning several awards, including a BAFTA award for Best Film Not in the English Language. Director Niels Arden Oplev did the impossible: made a successful adaption of a beloved novel. Yet, director David Fincher wanted in.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” based on the first book in the “Millennium” series, follows Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), a hacker, and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist, who investigate a 40-year-old missing person cold case on a remote Swedish island. Blomkvist is in a horrible place personally and professionally and, frankly, doesn’t have much to lose, so he takes up the investigation. But, he has come up short and is in need of assistance, and Salander is the best digital hacker in the field.
From the opening credit sequence, it is apparent that Fincher knows exactly what type of story he is telling. After all, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a piece of fiction that does scream Fincher. It’s bleak, dark, sexy, and lethal. The film has that muted cinematography and similar shots that audiences of Fincher have come to know, love, and expect, especially within a murder mystery thriller. But, most of all, the film is about the darkness of the human psyche, and it is these types of stories where Fincher thrives in. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is less about the actual crime and more so about the sickness of the characters within the story and the aftermath they must deal with due to the violence and hurt they endured from others. It’s about people, their behaviors, and their failures, the cycle of it, and how they cope (or don’t) within said cycle.
But, the most attractive part of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is Lisbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo. Like Hamlet, she is simply one of those characters that take an audience by storm. It’s no wonder why every actress wants to play her. She’s just as frightening as she is, exciting and dangerous, and maybe even insane, but she isn’t evil. She has a moral compass and wants to defeat the corrupt masculine nature of the world. While the first act — where Lisbeth and Mikael aren’t together — is less engaging than the rest of the film, it sets up the character of Lisbeth extremely well. Audiences understand that she is aggressive but quiet, only saying what she needs to say when needed. There’s a calm confidence to her, which is something that a lot of women in Fincher’s films possess. Lisbeth knows precisely who she is and what she stands for and is prepared to fight for it and challenge the status quo. It’s remarkably sexy and badass, making it easy to root for Lisbeth despite her faults.
All of this doesn’t work without Mara’s performance. The combination of Mara’s mysterious and introverted nature and Fincher when it comes to adapting Lisbeth is a match made in cinema heaven. It is a difficult job to play the role after the world celebrated and embraced Rapace in the Swedish trilogy, but Mara puts her own spin on Lisbeth. Mara plays both the hardness of Lisbeth and her softness as the film progresses, all through a physical approach. Lisbeth rarely says how she feels, only speaking on the facts that pertain to the case. Therefore, the responsibility falls on Mara’s physical acting to convey her emotional state, and she excels in that department. In addition, her chemistry with Craig is electric. It’s challenging to get an audience engaged with a character who is introverted or in their own world, yet Mara is able to pull her audience deep into Lisbeth’s world and root for her every step of the way. Yes, Mikael may be the story’s ” hero, ” but all eyes are on Lisbeth by the time the credits roll.
However, it is essential to note that the film is not for the faint of heart. Graphic prolonged sexual abuse is depicted throughout the first act and deserves a massive trigger warning, and so does its depiction of violence and torture. It’s an incredibly tough watch at times, and while some of the graphic content isn’t entirely needed in full, the sharp edges of the film do, in fact, soften the more we get to know Lisbeth and acclimate to her world.
At first glance, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is an incredibly well-made murder mystery. Then, it’s a gripping thriller. Then, an immensely satisfying revenge story. Then, it’s a surprisingly moving character piece about trauma and violence. The more one engages with it, the more of its mastery shines through. It is a beautiful example of what happens when a director finds source material that directly influences their topics of interest. And, while it is an absolute tragedy that we never got to see the completed story of Fincher’s version of Lisbeth Salander, we still have this compelling piece of work to celebrate.