When reviewing the last Harry Potter film (link) I spoke of the difficulty of adapting popular books into Hollywood films. While The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t as family friendly as the Harry Potter series, it too has become a cultural zeitgeist, as the originally Swedish language book has sold 15 million copies in the US alone. The newly released David Fincher adaptation of Tattoo has more going against it than just the book on which it’s based: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has also already been adapted into a successful foreign film. Fincher’s version is a strong film, regardless of any Tattoo preconceptions.
Mikael (Daniel Craig), an exiled magazine editor, is hired to find out what happened to a young woman who disappeared 30 years ago. Helping him is a tech guru named Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), a woman who is seemingly just as disturbed as anyone she investigates. When the case they’re researching delves into a history of sexual abuse and anti-Semitism, Mikael and Lisbeth uncover the secret of what happened to the missing girl all those years ago.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just as much about Mikael and Lisbeth than it is about solving any mystery. In fact, throughout the first half of the film’s 160 minute runtime, the audience is finding clues about the pasts of the main characters, rather than clues about the case. Luckily both characters, particularly Lisbeth, are well-crafted and immensely interesting.
The title, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, specifically references Lisbeth. She is the star of the show. She is the reason that the book has become so popular. The reasoning behind it is that she is unlike any other female character in pop culture. She’s dark, brooding, can defend herself most of the time, and when she can’t, she approaches vengeance in a smart, yet savage way. Rooney Mara is brilliant in her portrayal of the character. Lisbeth would be an easy character to do poorly, but Mara turns in a performance that any actress would be proud of.
Despite being well-done, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo certainly isn’t a film for everyone, particularly those who are extra-sensitive to seeing women abused. It’s no secret the story has graphic scenes of sexual assault, and director Fincher makes them as uncomfortable as possible. Making people uncomfortable is something that Fincher has always done better than most filmmakers. This film is as dark as you would expect from him as a director. While the lighting is dark, even darker is the message about humanity. Tattoo rivals any of his previous films for overall bleakness.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fine adaptation of the book, but make no mistake, the film will probably leave the best impression on those going into the story completely fresh. The movie approaches 3 hours, and the second half does rely quite a bit on story twists and turns (as any mystery typically does). If you have read the book, or have seen the Swedish film adaptation, there is still plenty to like here. Fincher’s vision and Mara’s performance make Tattoo interesting to even those who already know how the story ends.
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