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Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Directed by: David Fincher

Premise: An adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. An investigative journalist (Daniel Craig) and a hacker (Rooney Mara) attempt to solve a forty year old murder mystery. 

What Works: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an effective thriller. The picture has a brisk pace and is edited together very well, moving rapidly from one turn in the mystery to another. This is a very good example of economical filmmaking, as the picture quickly establishes settings, lays out the plot points without dwelling in exposition, and punches up very talky scenes with crosscutting and narrated flashbacks. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a well told mystery and it does something that many police procedurals often lack: the thrill of the act of investigation. Just as in real life, the researchers unearth all sorts of other material that they didn’t expect to find and the filmmakers effectively incorporate this into the story and let it inform the background against which the disappearance has taken place while also keeping focus on the case at the heart of the story. Part of the reason that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is so watchable, besides its technical craft, are the performances by Daniel Craig as the lead investigator, and his partner played by Rooney Mara. Mara is very good in the role; she is tough and smart but the character also retains a degree of vulnerability that keeps the audience caring about her and believing that she could be hurt. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is directed by David Fincher, a director known for dealing with provocative material in pictures like Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac. This film has material that is darker than the average Hollywood thriller and thankfully Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian embrace that darkness and do not attempt to soften it or squirrel around it.

What Doesn’t: The fast pace of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has some negative repercussions. This is a very complicated story and the film’s rush to compress the plot to fit within an acceptable running time ends up diminishing the tension. This is apparent in the scenes of violence, especially when they are compared to equivalent scenes in the 2009 version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, because this new version rushes into the violence instead of drawing out the tension and creating the atmosphere of dread. As a result, sequences are less impactful than they could be. And like the Swedish film adaptation, the American remake of Dragon Tattoo also has problems in the ending. The film has a climax that does not really resolve the main conflict of the story and then the picture continues to run for about twenty minutes covering content that is tangential to the story. This extended denouement goes on for too long, some of the content is silly, and it clashes with the established tone of the film. It is too bad the remake did not take the opportunity to change or eliminate this unnecessary afterward to the story since it would have been a way to actually improve the source material.

Bottom Line: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good thriller. It’s not much more than that and it falls short of the original film version but as an exercise in filmmaking it is a well told mystery.

Episode: #369 (December 25, 2011)