Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy came out of nowhere to become the biggest publishing phenomenon since Harry Potter. With David Fincher directing this Hollywood movie of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, coming a mere 2 years after the Swedish language version, is it a case of too much too soon? Fincher, known best for his work on Se7en and Fight Club is able to bring his unique and slightly twisted sensibilities to a narrative including rape, torture, molestation and murder. Having not read the books or seen the original film, it was easier for me to come into this with a fresh outlook, unlike reviews of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sees Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), co-owner of the Millennium magazine in Sweden, is a journalist who is successfully sued for libel at the start of the film. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a successful businessman decides to hire Blomkvist to investigate his family to discover who murdered his great-niece Harriot under the guise of writing his memoirs. Before hiring him, Henrik enlists the help of expert computer hacker and social misfit Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to check into Blomkvist’s background to make sure he’s clean. Blomkvist then moves to the Vanger family home in Hedeby Island, Hedestad and begins to piece together the truth about Harriot’s murder.
From the opening credits, you know The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a David Fincher film. Representing the bastard love-child of a James Bond film and Fincher’s own Fight Club, the oil human shapes smashing into each other before being set on fire creates a dark and sinister prelude to the action that will unfold. As beautiful and mesmerizing as the opening is, it sits at odds to the slow, pensive beginning of the film. Acutely aware that this will likely be the first in a trilogy, there’s plenty of space to introduce the major players. There is no rushing and the amount of time allowed to settle into the story is a clear indication of the director’s confidence to tell the story properly.
Craig is supreme as investigative journalist Blomkvist, being both an alpha male ladies man and a sensitive, intelligent thinker. It’s nice to see an actor of his talent put into a role he can sink his teeth into and is a far cry from Cowboys & Aliens. There is excellent supporting roles for Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard, but the real star of the film is Rooney Mara as the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander. It is a tough role to play as Noomi Rapace discovered, but like her predecessor, Mara throws herself entirely into the role and is able to win over the audience with limited dialogue, an unusual look and general rude and abrasive behaviour. It’s a stunning introduction to the actress whose biggest role before this was her small cameo in Fincher’s Facebook biopic The Social Network. She holds nothing back and is as brash and strong-willed as she is beaten-down and humiliated. In a year with so many strong female performances in film she may struggle to achieve an Oscar nod, but she should definitely be considered.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s plot, although complicated is obviously truncated from the original book, which helps the action be paced perfectly. The slow-burning introduction peppered with moments of horror and intrigue is amped up in the middle portion before steaming to the ending with barely a second to breathe. The film is right to have the increasingly rare 18 certificate from the BBFC, with some truly harrowing scenes involving Mara. Claustrophobic, dark and chilling, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was on course to being one of the strongest films of the year. Unfortunately, like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, is suffers from multiple ending syndrone. After the truth is revealed and the case solved, there is an obvious end point that works perfectly, however, Fincher, obviously thinking ahead has included a further 15 minutes of action that is rushed through to reach another, less satisfying ending. It’s a real shame that this is tacked on at the end because it destroys the flow of the narrative and leaves the audience begging for the credits.
Stronger than the Swedish-language original and with the classic David Fincher seal of approval all over it, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a chilling, beautifully shot and incredibly acted thriller.