REVIEW: New version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo near perfect

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
February 2nd, 2012

Avid readers are often disappointed when they go to see a screen version of their favourite books. I was introduced to the nearly viral, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson, and its following novels by my mother and quickly consumed the book in its entirety. So it was with trepidation that I watched the book morph onto the big screen.

In the Swedish movie renditions by director Niels Arden Oplev, done in 2009, I was disappointed as expected. Not only is it challenging to transfer stories from book to screen, but the director chose to cut much of what is critical to the flow of the story, particularly key relationships between the characters and the tensions that arise from them.

Director David Fincher’sThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, released in December 2011, gives a great deal more satisfaction to the fans of the novel. While Fincher is known for such movies as Aliens 3, Fight Club Panic Room, and The Social Network, he is no stranger to the thriller genre.

This movie supports his reputation for bringing dark stories to the screen and uses his extensive skills to develop the back-story with flash-backs. The film has already won awards for the score, actress, editing and screenplay while being nominated for many others although garnering what has been called modest box-office earnings of $137,000,000 (IMDB Jan. 13, 2012).

The complicated thriller follows the journey of journalist Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced after being charged with libel, in his search for a niece of a wealthy industrialist who went missing 40 years earlier.

Fincher seamlessly takes the viewer through the years of information Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, his research assistant, sort through to solve the mystery.

Sub-plots of corporate corruption, Swedish Nazism, serial murder, sexual abuse, and love all weave around each other building intrigue and tension throughout the show.

As Larsson writes within the novel, in Chapter 12, “It’s actually a fascinating case. What I believe is known as a locked room mystery, on an island. And nothing in the investigation seems to follow normal logic. Every question remains unanswered; every clue leads to a dead end.”

As in the novel, all three parts to the ending, which of course I cannot reveal, are present in the film, unlike the Swedish version which seemed to skim over the depth of the story.

In Fincher’s Girl, the characters of Blomkvist, a middle-aged successful but disgraced journalist played by Daniel Craig, and Salander, the goth, bi-sexual, high-tech researcher played by Rooney Mara, are completely believable. Craig doesn’t win any beauty contests nor does he play the action hero. As in the novels, it is Salander who out-thinks, takes action and wins the day – the true hero of the film.

The casting for the film was near perfect. Fincher had to insist on using Mara, not a more recognizable actor, in the role of Salander. Mara took the offer seriously, changing her hair, getting pierced and shaving her eyebrows. Where the Swedish actor, Noomi Rapace, took on the character, Mara became the character of Salander – a haunting shadow, downtrodden, but fierce.

Larsson’s original title for the book was Men who Hate Women, which gives insight into the theme of the story. But it is not a story of resignation; the story is about fighting back. Salander is full of courage, anger and action to not only win the day, but control her life.

In the background of the movie is the soundscape of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails fame. Reznor and Ross are working for the second time with Fincher after the Social Network, an award-winning soundtrack. Fans will recognize their distinctive touch as the music meshes the action on the screen without distraction. The opening theme, Immigrant Song by Led Zepplin and with Karen O doing vocals, adds an eery but appropriate feel to the mood.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, this thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat beyond what you thought was the end. For us who loved the books, the story stays true to the course with few additions or alterations. In the end many of the tensions of the story are resolved, but we are left without truly knowing Salander. But as she says, “Everyone has secrets.”


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) 158 minutes

Director: David Fincher; Production Companies – Columbia Pictures (presents), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures) (presents), Scott Rudin Productions (as Scott Rudin), Yellow Bird Films (as Yellow Bird Millennium US Rights AB), Film Rites, Ground Control.