The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Movie Review)

David Fincher’s newest flick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, features an unforgettable opening sequence reminiscent of star Daniel Craig’s other franchise, which coincidently, is also filled with sex, spy gadgets and wealthy super villains.  This movie begins by flashing sort-of-nude dancers writhing to a tune related to the movie, like Octopussy or Goldeneye did before it.  Here it’s Trent Reznor and Karen Oh’s industrial update of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which appropriately gears you up for the craziest events ever to befall Sweden, a tedious land of ice and snow, or more recently, IKEA and Volvo.  The song choice, along with the assault of slick effects and rapid-fire editing, remind you this is going to be much more like Se7en than 007.

For those unfamiliar with the late Stieg Larsson’s crime mystery novel or the subsequent 2009 Swedish film, the less you know the better.  You should dive into this case questioning everything and everyone, like Craig’s character Mikael Blomkvist, the disgraced investigative journalist from Stockholm hired to solve a 40-yearold murder.  In short order, he lost a libel suit, his savings and the most sacred thing a journalist has: his reputation.  To earn it all back, he must find out who killed the teenage niece of his wealthy 82-year-old financier, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer at his best).  Harriet Vanger disappeared in 1966 during a party on the family’s island, and Henrik has spent half his life trying to uncover which rotten fruit on his family tree is responsible.  They’re mostly Nazis and alcoholics, so it could be anyone of them. Luckily for Blomkvist, all the suspects still live in mansions spread about the island. It’s almost as if he’s playing a giant version of the board game Clue.  His only allies are a stray cat, the old man and Martin Vanger (native Swede Stellan Skarsgard), Harriet’s brother and current CEO of the family business.

So what does this have to do with the titular girl?  Her name is Lisabeth Salander and she too is an investigator of sorts.  She performed the comprehensive, albeit invasive, background check on Blomkvist for Vanger, using hacker tech that seems Bondian, but is all too real.  She’s more likely to be at a discotheque than an Apple Store Genius Bar, though.  As a former employer tells Vanger’s assistant, “She’s different.” He asks, “In what way?”  The boss responds, “In every way.”  She’s essentially the grown-up Euro version of Kick Ass femme fatale Hitgirl, and she’s by far cinema’s most interesting character this year.  Credit goes to Rooney Mara (The Social Network) for completely giving herself over to the character.  Any actress can sport body piercings, goth locks and bleached eyebrows, but it takes true talent to nail Salander’s simultaneous self-assured confidence, seething rage and repressed vulnerability.

Before inevitably teaming up with Blomkvist to unravel the whodunit, Salander also experiences humiliation beyond comprehension.  In Sweden, Larsson’s book translates to “Men Who Hate Women,” and Fincher never shies away from depicting that hatred.  As Salander is still a ward of the state, she is at the mercy of the world’s skeeviest lawyer (that’s saying a lot) to get her monthly allowance.  The “jobs” he has her do don’t exactly help her rage issues.  What does help is the graphic revenge she releases upon him, which in a perfect world, would be what happens to all rapists.

As the plot hurdles forward, it’s a bit difficult to keep tabs on which Vanger is which, but it doesn’t really matter.  You know there will be twists and turns, sleights of hand and so on.  True crime noir fanatics can predict much of the ending after 30 minutes in.  The story has been told twice already, anyways.  This is still a must-see movie, primarily for Craig and Mara’s onscreen chemistry.  Speaking of chemistry, the Fincher/Reznor mash-up works even effectively here than in The Social Network, setting the mood and scene without overpowering it.

The actor known for overpowering everyone in his other films, Craig, proves he’s not just an expert in badassery.  Here he exudes the humanity and charisma that can only be found after hitting rock bottom, not the bottom of a martini glass.  And for the first time, when he gets shot at, he runs like hell.  And he must rely on a 23-year-old self-professed psychopath to get his life back on track.  And he in turn helps her overcome her hatred of men.

For as insane as both their lives are, the relationship develops naturally and quite believably.  As odd as the pairing is, you root for them to find happiness in the end.  (Spoiler Alert: This is Fincher’s universe. Here, happy endings only exist in seedy massage parlors.)

To reach the ending, happy or otherwise, you’ll speed through about 135 minutes of an excellently crafted crime thriller and have to sit through about 20 anticlimactic minutes of wrapping up loose ends.  It’s not as egregious as “Return of the King,” but it does slightly tarnish another wise efficiently paced story.  Despite its runtime, the graphic visuals and compelling suspense of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo leaves an indelible mark that will leave audiences hotly anticipating the next chapter: The Girl Who Played with Fire.



6 Responses to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Movie Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Welcome John!
    GREAT first review!
    I dig it! I just wished I shared your sentiments on how much you liked the film 🙁
    I’m just disappointed by the fact that other than that groovy/sexy opening, I never felt like Fincher really made this film his own. The reason I can say that is because I saw the original Swedish film. I was disappointed. I really thought Fincher was going to push the bar, make this darker, out his own stamp on things and whatnot, but I ultimately felt let down. You are right though, that last 20 minutes is SO disjointed from the main plot of the film. If only they could have made the murder mystery a little more amped. If only…I digress.
    Other than that…SOLID REVIEW.

  2. Matt Goodman



  3. Aaron Neuwirth

    Welcome aboard and glad to basically agree with your thoughts! 🙂

    I wont go as far as Brian, but we do have a similar feel about the lack of a more ambitious Fincher at work. That said, it’s still a very well made film.

  4. Gerard Iribe

    Thought the film rocked.

  5. Matt Goodman

    Yeah. Social Network, Fight Club, and Se7en all had a distinct sense of being a “Fincher” film. While I enjoyed this film thoroughly, I felt it could have used a bit more Fincher.

  6. Aaron Neuwirth

    It had plenty of “this is obviously Fincher”, it needed more, “oh shit, this is why Fincher is amazing!”