The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Lisbeth fanboy and Salander newbie consensus rating - ★★★½

David Fincher’s take on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy has been hotly anticipated for the best part of a year.

The first part of the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, arrived in cinemas both sides of the pond over Christmas and, while it has only done “OK “at the box office, you have to remember that this is a 158minute R-rated film. Two factors which still has a huge impact on how a property is marketed and exhibited in the U.S. Despite this, Sony is pressing ahead with the trilogy with the second book in the series, The Girl who played with Fire, scheduled for release in late 2013.

With Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig and most of the principal cast reportedly signed up for three films, the only question now is over David Fincher’s involvement. It would come as no great surprise to see him step aside and take on an Executive Producer role as you get the impression that he’s not really bothered “playing the game” with the studios any more than he has to these days.

One of the most interesting things about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the fact that it has a massive advantage over other remakes of foreign language films. Put simply, EVERYONE has read the books. Except for Páraic who is still trying to finish The Da Vinci Code. The first book has sold over 15million copies in the U.S. alone, with the full trilogy sitting on best-seller lists for the best part of three years now.

Nigel has seen the full Swedish trilogy and he read the books during the group stages of the World Cup in South Africa. You could say he is a “Lisbeth fanboy”. In contrast, Páraic missed the bandwagon on the books and waited with great anticipation for their filmic adaptation. Well “American” adaptation once he realised Fincher was directing them. We will call him the “Salander newbie”.

So lets see how it held up. Fanboy first.



Nigel (The Lisbeth fanboy): When Matt Reeves’ Let Me In came out in late 2010, it was fun seeing people get hot and bothered over the same old remake of foreign films arguments. We’ve been here before The Departed (Mou gaan dou), The Ring (Ringu), hell even The Magnificent Seven (Shichinin no Samurai) split allegiances of audiences who had seen the original work. But as far as I’m concerned, that original piece of work still exists, and remakes just serve to bring the story to a new, “English-language-preferred” audience.

As a stand-alone piece of work, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo really is quite a piece of work. His notorious attention to detail came across in The Social Network, and this, in many ways, feels like a strange cousin of that film. Seeing Lisbeth bash out strings of code as she ran search queries was a similarly exhilarating experience to those early days of Zuckerberg coding “thefacebook” in his college dorm. The two central characters share many traits, not least of which is a lack of social skills and many of the hallmarks of Asperger’s Syndrome.

Rooney Mara played Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend in The Social Network, stealing the two majors scenes (café and restaurant) she had opposite Jesse Eisenberg. It’s no surprise to say that she absolutely dominates proceeding here too. As someone who devoured the books and thought Noomi Rapace was the perfect fit for Salander, I wondered what this privileged little American girl could bring to the character, but she really does deliver one of the most remarkable performances in years.

With Larsson’s original text being almost obsessively detailed (do we need to know the IKEA catalogue numbers of Lisbeth’s furniture?), it was perfectly suited to a guy like Fincher. Really it’s hard to fault his direction.

But where things do fall down is in the plot. Put the characters, locations, subject matter and “romance” of Larsson’s premature death aside for a moment and you’re left with a pretty wooden plot. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian does incredibly well to find a balance between the whodunnit elements and also set up the remaining parts of the trilogy. Believe it or not, there is an incredible amount of supplementary plot points and character stuff left out, and all of it for the better.

All in all, while remaining respectful of the original text, I’m not sure how Fincher and co could have done any better. Well done chaps.

( . ) ( . )

Páraic (Salander newbie): So firstly the titles are amazing. Perhaps Fincher will do the next Bond film now that him and James himself are buddies. Easy to see his original music video roots are there so you’d think he’d be able to bring in a neat well-structured movie.

Well he didn’t.

He has a brilliant movie here somewhere but in true Lord of The Rings or the film with 15 endings style, he tacked on a pointless 20 to 30 minutes that were not necessary to the central plot of a whodunnit movie but merely to please the Steig-ies. Now hold on, the film is called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so surely it’s OK that the film centres on her and her relationship with the various characters? Yes but not when the film has been sold as a murder mystery with some BDSM thrown in to spice things up.

Now I have it on good authority from a reliable female source that the novel goes into more depth on Lisbeth’s character and how she got such amazing Neo-like hacking skills, which I would have found quite interesting but Fincher obviously felt it wasn’t strong enough to sustain a full feature. That’s why he centered the film on the investigation of Harriet’s murder.

So this is a great if rudimentary buddy cop movie with a twist. The twist? Daniel Craig’s partner is a tattoo brandishing, bi-sexual, rip your head off and shit down your neck woman. Hot Damn. Now not to take away from Rooney Mara’s acting, its brilliant and surely worthy of an Oscar nod but the character herself is quite one-dimensional. She’s a girl with Daddy issues who doesn’t think too much of men, with good reason, and as she has short hair and dresses like a Goth, she must have lesbian leanings.

I heard Fincher give an interview where he said it’s better suited for TV as, with the third act, only shot to set up the second movie, audiences don’t really know how to handle it. This is true as once the mystery is solved I was quite satisfied. But wait, why aren’t the credits running? Oh there’s more and more and more. He should have stuck to his filmic credentials and stopped while he was ahead. Now it looks amazing, the Swedes seem to share Beckett’s outlook on life and all the supporting roles, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard are fantastic as always.



Nigel (The Lisbeth fanboy): “The act of revenge”. Anyone who read any pre-publicity for the film knew that there was going to be a wee bit of violence, maybe a smidgen of sodomy and a helluva lot of pain. But what’s less well publicised is Lisbeth’s exact process of revenge. The initial rape defines the entire trilogy but is representative of a life-time of abuse and misunderstanding that Lisbeth has been subjected to. To see her first act of redemption is exhilarating.

Páraic (Salander newbie): When the killer is revealed and picks some music to which he will torture his victim, the music? Enya’s Orinoco Flow. Move over Stealers Wheel, there is a new tune in town.



Nigel (The Lisbeth fanboy): The books are pretty hard work by the end with an intricate tapestry of characters, most of them middle-aged men. Thinking about them does make me curious to see how Sony Pictures handles their remake. Random prediction… The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest are merged into a single film.

Páraic (Salander newbie): The books, nope, that ship has sailed and I’m not really a crime novel fan if they could be classified as crime? I will go back and check out the original Swedish films.



Nigel (The Lisbeth fanboy): All the publicity over the last twelve months, (special mention for their “Mouth Taped Shut” tumblr) hinted that it could be one of those films where every frame could well be hung on a wall as a work of art. Fincher is one of the most visually striking directors, possibly second only to Ridley Scott at creating a “world” for the film to exist in. The isolation of the fictitious island of Hedeby and Sweden’s snow defines this. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s bleak score is the perfect accompaniment.

Páraic (Salander newbie): Yes but here is a pet hate of mine, it’s set in Sweden, they all have Swedish names and Swedish accents so why the hell would they be talking in English? Now I know it’s a remake for an English speaking audience but then just set it in America in Minnesota or something. This has done my head in since seeing WWII movies with the Nazis all speaking English to each other. Nein!


Nigel (The Lisbeth fanboy): ★★★★

Páraic (Salander newbie): ★★★

∴ Spooool consensus: ★★★½


David Fincher  /  Steven Zaillian  /  Starring:  Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright  /  158 min  / Thriller, Crime, Mystery  /  Release: 20 December 2011 (Canada/US), 26 December 2011 (UK/Irl)

  • enda can

    As a n00b, still thinks this ranks up there with Drive as a favourite of the year for me. Saying that, if Fincher filmed a turd on the ground for 90 mins and set it to a Reznor/Ross score I’d say the same thing.

    p.s. look at me commenting like a regular old internet user! HI NIGEL.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah the more I think about it, the more I want to see it…

      I’d be interested in seeing Fincher’s shit movie too. Provided the score was by the right people. On a sidenote, Plague’s t-shirt was a favourite moment of mine…

      • Nigel

        By the way I meant, “see it AGAIN”. I did see the film before reviewing it…