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REALLY Rapid Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

January 3, 2012

I’m getting caught up on the blog after the holidays, so get ready for some condensed reviews of the movies I experienced over break.

Having both read the book and seen the Swedish version of the film, I went into David Fincher’s movie with a little bit of Stieg Larsson fatigue.  The Swedish version of the film did a more than acceptable job of  portraying the events and characters of the book, although I had the same problem with the Swedish movie’s first 20 minutes that I did with the first 1/4th of the book;  it was bogged down with so much economic jargon and so little action that it took awhile to get off the ground.

the infamous tattoo

Fincher’s version benefits from some much-needed editing and jettisoning of much of the novel’s ambling first quarter.  By bringing Rooney Mara’s masterful portrayal of Lisbeth Salander to the forefront earlier, Fincher wisely chooses to juxtapose the building of her back story against the suspense facing Daniel Craig’s Mikhael Blomkvist and the rise of the main plot.   The stunning opening credits, set to a menacing but powerful soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, set the stage for a more overtly dark telling of the tale.   But is “in your face” always better?  In this case, perhaps not.  Americans are not known for their subtlety, and in this instance Fincher has chosen to paint the surface red as opposed to what was only slightly shaded and more ambiguous in the original Swedish film.

Craig is an adequate and empathetic leading man, but the true focus of the movie belongs on Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth, who shows a vulnerability and depth that was sorely missing from Noomi Rapace’s portrayal in the Swedish film.  There are moments when her eyes give more expression and power to events than any dialogue ever could.  Her most effective scenes happen before she even comes into contact with the main story, however, which is no fault of Fincher’s, but perhaps a structural part of the original novel that is tough for a film version to illustrate effectively.

Lisbeth confronts her demons

It’s Mara’s film to steal, although there are some notable supporting performances by Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright and Steven Berkhoff.    The American version alters the tail end of the story, leaving it on an awkward coda that seems out of tune from the rest of the film.

Still, it begs the question, after a perfectly acceptable foreign film has already been made, why do we need to see the same movie again?  If you are a first time viewer who hasn’t seen the original, then the movie will have a power and “newness” for you that it probably lacked for me.

Based on the strength of Mara’s performance, the stunning cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth and the masterful editing of Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is more than worth a viewing, although it won’t win any prizes for originality.

Overall Grade: B –

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