The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Review

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Score

Fincher can only slather high-grade attention-grabbing gloss onto Larsson’s crude pseudo-feminist turd.

Great films have been made from much less than Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published novel. But with all the fanfare surrounding his Millennium Trilogy over the last few years, not to mention the high profile of the popular Swedish-language adaptations, it’s hard to get too excited about this opportune Hollywood retake.

But wait, David Fincher’s directing. It’s scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network), scripted by Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) and lensed by Jeff Cronenweth (Fight Club). That means hyper-kinetic kicks layered with neo-noir hues and a thumping electronic pulse, right? Well, yes, but it’s just polish. High-grade attention-grabbing gloss slathered liberally onto Larsson’s crude pseudo-feminist turd.

Rooney Mara is the eponymous ink-branded heroine with a troubled past who abets Daniel Craig’s disgraced journo Mikael Blomkvist in a missing persons case in rural Sweden (Fincher shrewdly retains the original setting). With his investigative nous and her mad cyber-hacking skills, it’s not long before the pair starts to unravel the sinister mystery that’s haunted the affluent Vanger clan for almost 40 years.

Mara’s metamorphosis from mousey girl-next-door to nipple-pierced punk pin-up is remarkable; Fincher’s punishing auditioning process proving fruitful. Yet underneath all the chain-smoking, motorcycle-shredding minxery is an actress who exudes a porcelain virtue.

That’s not to say Mara doesn’t give a ballsy, credible performance; it’s more that her Lisbeth Salander is inherently vulnerable when measured against Noomi Rapace’s androgynous meta-siren.

As such, Mara’s Salander can be read as a naked endorsement of the source novel’s voyeuristic and misogynistic subtext. While any undercurrent of sexual gratification derived from the objectification and torture of women is likely to remain a grey area, one thing is crystal: this frosty tale of murder, scandal and sub-Jonathan Creek twists, coupled with the news that Martin Scorsese is set to take on Jo Nesbø’s 'The Snowman', suggests that the Scandi potboiler boom is only just getting started.

Anticipation

Fincher doesn’t appear to have pulled a single punch on his welcome return to the crime/thriller domain.

4

Enjoyment

But he can only gloss over Larsson’s rancid source novel.

3

In Retrospect

Immaculate style, questionable substance.

2
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Carnelian

2 years ago
Adam, perhaps you could elaborate on why you read the message of this film as shady "psuedo-feminism"?

Adam LWLies

2 years ago
Hi Carnelian. Just to clarify, my gripe is with the book's message, in-depth analysis of which I won't bore you with now.

My point is that Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zaillian fail to address many of the flaws (as I see them: both with regards to narrative structure and message) of Larsson's story, preferring instead to smooth over said cracks with slick cinematography, a pulsing score, solid acting, etc.

The film for all its filmic qualities is commendble. But the story, in my opinion stinks.

Paula

2 years ago
"Questionable substance"? Did you read the books? I know it is something people say in the rest of the world, that a remake is made by Hollywood "easier to understand" for the American public... but... really?

mr_x

2 years ago
can you say more about why the story wise? not saying your wrong, i think the plot was a bit ridiculous and hackneyed myself, but i enjoyed the remake, even if the conclusion was trite, there was no real mystery, and mara, great as she was, after appearing as a great fem heroine, appeared to just jump into bed with daniel craig and get naked in record time. also the revenge rape was just a bit too crass to really appear as smart as the film could have been. but its well made. fincher could never make a terrible film, its just the story that is a bit feeble and generic.

Adam LWLies

2 years ago
Hi Paula, I've read the first book in the series, which (as you might be able to tell from the above) put me off finishing it. Not implying that Fincher has toned down Larsson's story for the American public...

mr_x

2 years ago
sorry, i meant why you think the story stinks.

daveC

2 years ago
So you didn't like the book/story line - whoo hoo. Idiot review.

James

2 years ago
Meta-siren Noomi is better, but I enjoy Fincher's vision. This teaser mash up illustrates my view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur0hqcYNYvs

Matt

2 years ago
As a fan of the original books and films I didn't feel Fincher's version brought anything new to to the table other than (arguably) prettier leads and a bit more panache. I enjoyed it on a visual level but emotionally it left me cold, whereas I remember feeling much more of an emotional connection with Noomi Rapace's Lisbeth and Michael Nyqvist's Blomkvist from the original films. Fincher's version is still worth seeing though.

Craig

2 years ago
Perhaps someone who hated the books shouldn't have been first choice for reviewer, considering it was the source material? Admittedly they were crap, the first one slightly less so, but...

"Great films have been made from much less than Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published novel"?

Not many had the fanfare or level of expectation this came with.

Adam LWLies

2 years ago
Hi daveC, the point I make, quite clearly, is not just that I didn't care for the first book, but that I found its "pseudo-feminisit" message shady and its plot line asinine. The film itself is very well made, there's plenty to enjoy, but it's important to look beyond the smoke and mirrors sometimes.

JohnC

2 years ago
As opposed to someone who cherished the books, and would be just as objective. Does it matter?

Tom

2 years ago
It's been a little while since I read the first book, but I certainly had no reason to think the book was anything but honest in its feminist leanings, and certainly not "voyeuristic and misogynistic". The sexual violence is graphic, but I wouldn't say it was written in a voyeuristic manner at all, especially because we're basically in Salander's head for a lot of it. Even the most likeable male character gets called out at times.

Adam LWLies

2 years ago
"i think the plot was a bit ridiculous and hackneyed myself, but i enjoyed the remake, even if the conclusion was trite, there was no real mystery, and mara, great as she was, after appearing as a great fem heroine, appeared to just jump into bed with daniel craig and get naked in record time. also the revenge rape was just a bit too crass to really appear as smart as the film could have been."

This pretty much covers it to be honest...

Anton Bitel

2 years ago
I guess if someone who has spent several days in someone's company - and months before that cyberstalking every intimate aspect of his life - and who expresses her admiration and respect for him before even meeting him in the flesh - can then be said to have "appeared to just jump into bed" with him "in record time", then Lisbeth is guilty as charged. Because, you know, feminist icons aren't supposed tohave sex (unless it is with a casual female pick-up at a club - a scene which, weirdly, has not in this context been subjected to the same scrutiny)...

Anton Bitel

2 years ago
Here be SPOILERS!
I agree that the "the teary reunion of Harriet and her uncle... is bathetic and anticlimactic" - so hats off to Fincher/Zaillian for putting far less emphasis on it than Oplev did in the Swedish film (where this scene *is* made the climax). This is one of the areas where Fincher/Zaillian greatly improved on Oplev.

"Fincher makes Lisbeth a passive observer of the killer's death AND omits the flashback. Kinda wimpy." Disagree. In Oplev's version, an unarmed Lisbeth chases Martin, and when he becomes trapped in his car, she sits back and lets him burn; in Fincher's version, she chases Martin armed, and with an express intention to kill him, and is only prevented from shooting him in cold blood by the explosion of the car. Is that really more passive? As for the 'missing' flashback, Zaillian has made it clear in multiple interviews that he is reserving Salander's family history for the other two films - but he does *allude* here to her father (and he knows that this is a story already familiar from two different media to many viewers).

I may be alone in thinking this, but for me Lisbeth's question "May I kill him?" says less about her supposed submission (does she care what answer is given?), and more about Mikael's, and by extension our own, moral complicity in what follows. Martin may in the end DIAF, but we were all, like the camera, behind Lisbeth when she cocked that gun for the killing of an immobilised man. I'd say that this is every bit as ethically challenging as, if not far more so than, Harriet's silence. The Nazis may have been enabled by silence - silence *something* like Harriet's - but the extra-judicial killings that this silence enabled them regularly to carry out is *something* like what Lisbeth plans for Martin (and we tacitly endorse). Besides, it is hardly unprecedented for the teen victims of serial abuse to maintain silence about their experiences; and as far as Harriet is concerned, the killer that she had discovered - Martin's father - is dead and gone. And I simply don't understand what you mean by the *uncle*'s "moral compromises".

cinemunky

2 years ago
Yes the girls are great but the story is weak!
Lizbeth Salander is creation for all time but all the other characters are drawn in crayon.
How do you make a nazi / serial killer more interesting? he also cuts up kitties!
As a writer Larson is no Patricia Highsmith and Fincher is no Hitchcock or Lang but the real intent of this film is the always laudable attempt to achieve Bondian iconography for a female character. If they want that to happen Lisbeth needs a license to kill! Why should she be asking Blomquist's permission?
Making Lisbeth sexier does not make her softer , but Fincher's reluctance to show her as a killer weakens her and the movie.
For comparison: the Swedish movie shows Lisbeth lighting her father on fire (in flashback) at the same moment she chooses to let the serial killer burn to death (and he screams nicely).
Fancher makes Lisbeth a passive observer of the killer's death AND omits the flashback. Kinda wimpy.
But Fincher isn't wimpy about product placement, she's punky/gothy cool, and so is Micky D!
The actresses in the american and the swedish versions are equally phenomenal. If I lean a little to Noomi Rapace over Roony Mara, its just cuz last time I was in Sweden they spoke Swedish not English with a weird accent.
(not her fault, I know, just Hollywood, maybe we should let other countries keep their own franchises)
The swedish film has a typically Euro middle-aged man / young girl wish fulfillment aspect that is sorta creepy. Whereas in the american film is Daniel Craig's weathered but golden hunkiness torpedoes any age issue.
Daniel Craig gets points for clearly enjoying playing a physically inept non action hero, just as Fancher/Zaillian are enjoying reversing the standard hero/love interest formula.
The essential flaw that exposes the filmmakers lack of craft and moral intelligence is story of Harriet the missing girl who is the main plot mechanism.
Fincher and Zaillian are oblivious that Harriet has not really fallen far from her Nazi family tree since she is extremely complicit (by her silence) in enabling Martin's genocidal serial killing.
Instead we get a teary reunion of Harriet and and her uncle that is bathetic and anticlimactic.
To recognize the moral compromises of Harriet and and her uncle is important because though few of us will ever fight nazis or serial killers face to face, complicity and inaction is a daily question for all of us.
I'm not knocking pure escapism but then again the real nazis loved escapism very much!

Anton Bitel

2 years ago
sorry for confusion, you're absolutely right: I had meant 'Harriet' when I mistakenly wrote that Lisbeth killed Martin's father.
Don't agree that the revenge on the state guardian is the real climax of Fincher's film - rather I see that, and the confrontation with Martin, and indeed Harriet's confrontation with Martin's father, as a series of parallel narratives - and Lisbeth's final victory over Wennerstrom as falling into something of a similar pattern. What was most interesting to me about all of these, and indeed something sufficiently rare in thrillers (Hollywood or otherwise) as almost to be transgressive, was the positioning of a female rather than male character as the film's principal agent, and one who furthermore rescues the principal male character - indeed rescues him twice (from both Martin and Wennerstrom). That Mikael is played by an actor now most associated with that old bastion of dinosaur-like patriarchal values, 007, served only to underscore, through the inertness of his character here, the film's inversion of gender 'norms'. Here, Daniel Craig is the very opposite of Bond (despite being introduced by a title sequence that clearly parodies the opening of a Bond film).
All this is more or less true of Oplev's version too, but I still consider Fincher's far superior for the reasons I outlined in my first post. Maybe it was too soon to do a remake - but Oplev's version certainly left a lot of room for improvement, and Fincher's version feels like a genuine cinematic experience, rather than a telemovie (with some excellent performance).

cinemunky

2 years ago
Good point about Harriet not being shown as merely a victim. (I was confused for a moment because you wrote Lizbeth!) but whats more interesting to me is her failure to expose Martin.
And you are right, I AM being unfair to poor Uncle Henrik. He seems like a sweet old guy , but I lived for years in Germany and those adorable old grannies and grossvaters are very sweet too but when they talk about the Reich and the holocaust they say ' but we didn't know!
When you say Henrik is no more to blame than any other swede or any citizen elsewhere , I agree! My feeling is that we ALL need to live with a higher standard of awareness.
After I wrote that post I realized I was wrong to be disappointed in the plotting that that uses the car wreck to disrupt Lizbeths potential to murder Martin. Now I see that it was EXACTLY the right narrative device because Martin , however deserving of death, is not Lizbeth's personal nemesis, in the way that her stepfather is , or as you mention, her state-guardian.
The american film makes Lisbeth's rape from and vengeance on her guardian the climax of the film. It is a valid choice and stunningly filmed. Only one problem: there's still an hour of screen time to be filled! Its not Fincher's fault that the source material is structured this way but I think he and Zaillian missed opportunities to make the film more thought provoking.
Although the swedish film has the advantage of putting its climax later in the story at Martin's death, its definitely tough sledding to get to the end. For me neither film succeeds as a thriller.
I must confess that I come to this film with a skeptical attitude because i think its so culturally tone-deaf to remake a recent foreign language film and then set it in the same country but in English! Tacky, cheezy and imperialistic!
Directors like Tarantino and even Mel Gibson have raised the bar about using languages respectfully and realistically.
But even better is to transplant the story into a whole different language and culture.
Take a clue from The Departed , thats how to do a remake!
Still there's nothing I enjoy more than having low expectations and then getting blown out of my seat! This film NEEDED to blow me away and didn't come anywhere close.

Anton Bitel

2 years ago
Hey cinemunky
nice post.
Your comments about intent not necessarily translating into action would be more pertinent had we not already (and elaborately) seen Lisbeth in action implementing righteous, table-turning revenge (against her state guardian). Are we really in any doubt that this girl means business? The omitted/deferred-for-sequel dad-burning sequence might have created a neat visual (and maybe moral) analogue to Martin's fiery death in the car, but it would not be imparting anything to us about Lisbeth's refusal to play victim that we do not already know.
Also, for the record, Martin is NOT a Nazi. That was his father (and his other uncle too). And Lisbeth is NOT "merely a victim" - she was the one who killed Martin's father, having just established that he was the serial killer.
I take your point about the uncle sitting on information about Wennerstrom - but think you go too far in apportioning some blame to him for failing to notice the well-concealed actions of his relative and neighbour. *No-one* knew what Martin was up to - not the others on the island, not the police, not even Martin's girlfriend (who often stays with him in the house). Martin has gone to considerable lengths to cover up his crimes, and unlike his father, leaves no evidence behind that there has even been any murder.
I think, more importantly, that the film *does* touch on the moral issue of how little anyone notices or cares when the marginalised and the foreign just disappear (with Immigrant Song becoming a sort of threnody) - but that is hardly something for which the uncle is particularly at fault more than anyone in Sweden (or indeed beyond).
Also, when you say, "The killer is now victim, he pleads for mercy, should he receive it?...not a hard question for Lisbeth or us", I do wonder what answer you think it is that 'we' would so unhesitatingly give.

cinemunky

2 years ago
Anton, have you ever had a woman with a gun or knife in her hand tell you she is going to kill you?
This has happened to me more than a few times. It can be one of the nicer ways to contemplate oblivion. (not so nice when its your own mother)
The fact that I'm here tapping out these comments is testimony to the large gap between spoken intent and resolution.
In the movies that gap is even greater than in real life.
In the technique of film writing words are a tool for misdirection,
'intent' is tool for misdirection.
'Murderous words with a gun in hand' is often the setup for 'change of mind' and catharsis.
So for me, tho Rooney can talk big and cock a pistol, its what actually 'happens' that matters. Note that Rooney is anorexic to the point of early stage anemia, she better be packing! On the other hand, Noomi is a wiry ball of muscle with mad street-fighting smarts, she don't need no gun!
So what happens?
Fincher's version completely prevents Lizbeth from carrying out the judge/jury/executioner role that we long to see. I don't mind the filmmakers subverting my desire for brutality but what are they offering in its place? A lame deus ex machine car crash followed by some syrupy family sentiment, a crassly materialistic happy ending with a promise of a sequel. Ka-ching!
The swedish version also uses the car crash to sidetrack Noomi from a hands on execution, but this is only to provide a much more interesting climax and a fantastic flashback 'reveal' of the origin of Lizbeth's story. The beauty and horror of watching a little girl light her father on fire when Lizbeth contemplates the flames of the past and present is a truly 'pyrotechnic' moment. But in addition there is a philosophical substance. There is poetry in seeing a murderer become a victim, a victim become a murderer. The killer is now victim, he pleads for mercy, should he receive it? Does his helplessness deserve our sympathy? This Nazi? Serial killer? Kitty-kat murderer? Not a hard question for Lizbeth or us but a trickier aspect of the victim question will surface before the end of both films and they both massively fail to address it.
Yes, rape victims , teen or otherwise, seldom report the rapists, but the issue is the multitudes of girls Martin is killing every year. We are plainly shown that Martin's father teaches him to be a killer and they hunt together. Obviously this takes place BEFORE Harriet kills the father! For whatever reason , Harriet allows the killing to continue. I haven't read the book but I read somewhere that Lizbeth has some harsh feelings towards Harriet about this. I can find it totally believable that someone who escaped from a killer's abuse might be somehow be unable to come forward even to rescue hundreds of girls. What is astonishing is for a storyteller to slide this detail under the rug as if its of no importance ! Harriet is a much more interesting character for not being merely a victim.
Here was the vinegar that Fincher could have used to cut the saccharine triteness of the uncle/niece reunion, but nobody wants moral complications in Hollywood.
I'm not saying the uncle is a bad guy, but he's not a 'good' guy. He's like you or me or most people, not particularly active in changing the world for the better. He's quite sure he has the dirt to convict a big time bad guy, but he doesn't really care about doing anything about it. He does care about his niece so he trades the information to a 'good' guy: Blomkvist, to find out what happened to Harriet.
He's obviously never made an effort to notice that he's lived next door to a serial killers for 50 years , his brother and nephew! This lack of curiosity from being absorbed in a life of creature comforts is what enables corruption, war and genocide.

Thomas Gudgeon

2 years ago
I couldn't disagree more. The books are brilliant. The story is fantastic, with a multitude of different views, not just feminism (certainly not, as above said "voyeuristic and misogynistic"), it has a brilliant connection to the audience and it was one of the few books that I couldn't put down (and had to continue reading the series). Admittedly David Finchers remake wasn't the most incredible film (don't get me started on the title sequence!), but the Swedish original was beautiful, concise and it made sense without knowing the book! I feel that this review was approached from a bias opinion of the books sh*t and thats all that matters, whereas only in the comments you've furthered the review and said the film was decent.. peculiar review, ut none the less love LWL.

Anton Bitel

2 years ago
Oplev's Swedish film version had three main problems: its flat, 'telemovie' look did not justify seeing it on a large screen; it suffered from some rather clunky exposition; and its extended coda was too sentimental to match the dark tone of what had preceded.

Fincher's film has none of these problems: it looks fantastic (and, more importantly, cinematic) throughout; it is very economic in the way that it traces each narrative step (and, unusually for an American remake, makes its viewers work harder to keep up than was ever necessary in the 'foreign' original); and its rather different ending is a slice of Christmas pie perfectly judged in its tartness.

One can argue about the point of remakes, especially when they follow so soon upon the 'original' (although in this case, both films were adaptations anyway) - but for me this is a rare case of a Hollywood 'remake' improving in every way upon the non-English-language version.

Adele

2 years ago
Totally agree. The plot changes severely weakened the film and overall I don't think Fincher added much more than just gloss (the original was filmed as a mini series which is probably why it felt a little less cinematic). I was disappointed - I love Fincher (Zodiac is one of my favourite films of all time) and I just don't think this added anything. Also I think Rooney Mara is strangely inaccessible, and not in a good way. Noomi Rapace was far more convincing, as if there was depth behind her facade. Mara come off as just the facade. And the title sequence, while beautiful, was far darker than the film and seemed to be trying desperately to add genuine edge, much like Mara's haircut and piercings - it all felt a little too contrived.
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