Daniel Craig | Film | Nathaniel Rogers

Movies: 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

Rooney Mara makes good in her star-making role

...would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

In the beginning there was only a book, but let's start with the ending. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) wraps up with what can only be interpreted as a prologue to a sequel. The movie's elaborate cold case puzzle plot has long since been pieced together when our socially challenged goth heroine Lisbeth Salander sets a new revenge plot in motion. Since we're already past the two hour mark, we race through this whole new story with the speed usually reserved for Lisbeth's midnight motorcycle rides. New beginnings, middles, and endings race by us like blurry highway markers. What just happened? How satisfied the movie leaves you will surely depend on whether or not you'd like to stay in your seat waiting for the next hellish chapter to unfold. 

Millions of people have eagerly flipped pages for all of the hellish chapters of the worldwide best selling "Millennium" trilogy. The Swedish literary phenomenon has already spawned three homegrown films starring Noomi Rapace (now co-opted by Hollywood for the new Sherlock Holmes movie). It's time to crack the book open again with the American version by David Fincher (The Social Network). We're jumping around in time because the experience of the movie, and this franchise in general, is also one of chapters, false starts, and piecemeal reveals.

The plot, which is far too complicated to regurgitate finds Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) the patriarch of a despicable family searching for answers to what happened to his granddaughter decades before. He believes a family member offed her and he hires Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to solve the mystery under the guise of helping him with his memoirs. As the plot thickens, Blomkvist seeks assistance in the form of ward of the state and computer hacking genius Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).



The best reason to see the new version is the riveting mix of physical vulnerability and psychological armor that Mara brings to the already famous role, besting Noomi Rapace's take on the character. (Mara was just Golden Globe nominated) Yet, despite the successful Lisbeth reinvention and Fincher's considerable visual prowess as a filmmaker, the whole of the story underwhelms. The plotty patchwork storytelling which has always been better suited to a television miniseries, frustratingly keeps the only two characters we truly care apart (Lisbeth and Bomkvist) apart for what seems like an entire hour. Considering that Fincher has been to the serial killer well twice before to stunning results (Se7en and Zodiac --  three times previously if you count Madonna's "Bad Girl" video), one wonders why he needed another genre go round with an already familiar property.  His previous sicko killer films had redemptive humanity in their heroes but this time, there's not much differentiating between the killer's sadism and the storytelling itself. The source material's creepy sexism (Girls and their Daddies, oh my!) is also tough to stomach. Crime films should be unsettling but maybe they shouldn't give themselves over so fully to the sadism at the core of their subject matter. (For what it's worth Shame was recently rated NC-17 for its abundant consensual sex. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is just as sexually graphic but often non-consensual and violent received a R from those reliable perverts at the MPAA).


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo begins with the hottest, sickest music video you've seen in opening title form since Fincher's own Se7en (1995). When the title sequence ended I wondered if I had dreamt it. Craig and Mara intertwine, explode and drip with inky-black inhuman abandon, while cable cords rope around them with digital reptilian menace. The opening is so transfixingly hot, that the instantly chilly Scandinavian winter that follows is a shock to the system, like molten lava suddenly hardened into black rock. The movie chases but never quite manages to catch that sequence's nightmarish hallucinatory tail. It would be a gross distortion to say that the movie never catches fire again, but Fincher is more concerned with the deep chill. He'll take you to hell but this one is frozen over.  

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  1. Having neither read the books nor seen the original films, I am intrigued, though I think I'll wait for the blu-ray.

    Posted by: Brian | Dec 16, 2011 10:17:26 PM

  2. The original Swedish title of the book was "Men Who Hate Women," so the creepy sexism and misogyny is really the whole point. It wasn't until they were published in Britain the books got the "Girl With/Who" titles.

    In the books there's a lot of detail about Blomqvist's career, the magazine he runs, and Salander's problematic relationship with Social Services (they think she's "slow" instead of antisocial). It would probably be impossible to get all that into a single film without it being choppy and episodic. I wasn't as over-the-moon about them as many people seem to be but they're good, entertaining reads.

    I've been holding off on the Swedish film to see the Fincher version first. I did the same thing with Let The Right One In/Let Me In. Maybe it's lowbrow of me but given a choice I'll watch the English language (not dubbed) version of a film first then see the foreign version. And Fincher can be very good so I was hoping he'd bring something to it.

    Posted by: Caliban | Dec 17, 2011 12:35:29 AM

  3. As I have seen all 3 films I can't wait to see this one to see how it stacks up

    Posted by: Kevzin | Dec 17, 2011 1:27:42 AM

  4. the swedish movies are beautiful (which is weird to say, given their content) and not too hard to follow, as there r tons of silent scenes.... will wait till this comes to netflix...

    Posted by: V-8 | Dec 17, 2011 4:39:32 AM

  5. I've been looking forward to this one. It looks as i pictured it in my mind and i usually enjoy movified books. Baniel Craig as Blomkvist is perfect! I am looking forward to Roony's performance as well.

    Posted by: Redebbm | Dec 17, 2011 4:44:51 AM

  6. "For what it's worth Shame was recently rated NC-17 for its abundant consensual sex. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is just as sexually graphic but often non-consensual and violent received a R from those reliable perverts at the MPAA"


    I still can't believe I sat through the Swedish one (had no idea what it was about, except the lesbians at AfterEllen were gushing about Rapace). I, too, thought Rapace excellent---but at the same time thought, "this movie could be better" (and I'm not talking about the source's misogyny).

    Ergo, I'm torn: wanting to see if this movie COULD, in fact, be the better version...and at the same time, really not wanting to endure it again!

    Posted by: JCF | Dec 17, 2011 4:58:49 AM

  7. Go see the swedish version. It really is excellent.

    Remaking such a recent film because english speakers refuse to watch anything in a foreign tongue in an age where you can download any film with subtitles in any language you want with a click of a mouse is just soooo insane.

    Posted by: ct | Dec 17, 2011 6:03:00 AM

  8. CT@ only a pretentious purist would scorn the merits of English translation. Subtitles are a pointless pain. Verdi was staggered to discover that American productions of his operas were performed in Italian.

    Why does an English speaking audience sit through any story-line in any medium in a foreign language? Because they have been intimidated into accepting that something important has been lost through translation and/or that true sophistication lies in following the elite dictates of critics who have closed ranks on the subject. Indeed something has no doubt been lost, but infinitely more is lost when you don't understand a word of what you're seeing, or are distracted by subtitles.

    Besides, the Millenium trilogy is grossly over-hyped, utterly devoid of any substantive ideas which,if they existed, would struggle to survive under the weight of perversion and misogny which can only draw enormous audiences through the deranged animal power of stampede.

    Posted by: uffda | Dec 17, 2011 10:15:03 AM

  9. I had the same reaction as JCF to the Swedish films: they were good but could have been better, and I think Fincher is the perfect choice "to do better." I have tickets to see his take on the story on Wednesday.

    And regarding subtitles, I've watched and loved tons of subtitled films, but you do lose something... both in terms of what doesn't get translated and the distraction from the film's visual elements. Plus, reading dialog is a very different experience from hearing it.

    Posted by: RJG | Dec 17, 2011 10:42:57 AM

  10. I thught the Swedish versions were excellent; Repace was perfect! I like Daniel Craig as an actor but he's not right for this part. Mikael isn't a bad-ass tough-gay but a smart, skilled but physically average reporter. The presentation of Lisbeth, based on the trailer, looks a lot less subtle.

    Posted by: Conor | Dec 17, 2011 1:04:33 PM

  11. Yeah during Christmas I'm always in the mood for a dark, violent serial killer movie...Michelle Williams makes a very convincing Monroe but Kenneth Brannagh as Olivier steals "My Week With Marylin"

    Posted by: jaragon | Dec 17, 2011 10:13:39 PM

  12. I saw all three of the original Swedish movies in the trilogy & enjoyed them very much. I like Daniel Craig, but it is a sad insult to the Swedes to remake such recently successful films just so ignorant xenophobic Americans will watch them.

    Posted by: DearComrade | Dec 17, 2011 11:55:16 PM

  13. Wait...the opening titles have "cable cords rop(ing) around (Craig and Mara) with digital reptilian menace"? Is Fincher into Yaoi and Manga Tentacle sex, now? THAT sounds intriguing...especially with big, buff 007.

    As for the books and movies, haven't touched 'em. I prefer lighter fare, right now (having already written and had published a couple books like that, tho' mine dealt with men being raped and brutalized instead of women; guess that's why they're not as popular...typed with a facetious smirk).

    Posted by: kyle Michel Sullivan | Dec 18, 2011 12:13:47 AM

  14. Nathaniel, I am hearing that this version adds a love story element. In the books, Liz has sex with Blomkist once to get off and shows jealousy towards the guy and his editor girlfriend. It ends up being jealousy of the closeness as in friendship not romance. In the books it turns out that the woman she picks up in the first book is the romantic interest. There was still some doubt by Liz/Blomkist shippers after the second book but the third laid down the anvil. Liz has no romantic want for Blomkist and is trying to get to a point where she can express to the woman she loves her.

    Does Fincher really turn it into a heterosexual love story?

    Posted by: Delta | Dec 18, 2011 10:38:12 AM

  15. I loved the novels, but thought the Swedish films donwplayed the sexuality too much. Blomkvist in particular sleeps with just about every woman he meets in the books, while sustaining a long-term affair with his business partner, Erika, and the Swedish films really ignore that part of his personality. The fact that both Salander and Blomkvist are uncomfortable with intimacy was a huge component imo of what made the books compelling. I have high hopes that Fincher can make better films than the Swedish ones, including more of the subplots, especially Erika's offer from the other magazine and how Salander helps her in the third one (with neither of them telling Blomkvist, Girl Power at its best), and I'm eagerly awaiting the first one!

    Posted by: Steve Stowell | Dec 18, 2011 11:45:15 AM

  16. I liked the Swedish movies, and can't imagine another lead actress in the role! But, my fantasy boyfriend, Daniel Craig, is in the remake, so I'll have to watch it.

    Posted by: Jim | Dec 18, 2011 2:10:04 PM

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