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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
December 20, 2011 12:55 PM
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The American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is well-made, well-cast, tense and exciting. I just wish I hadn’t seen it all before.

It’s hard to fully enjoy a whodunit when you already know the clues, the red herrings, and who done it. If only Americans were willing to read subtitles—or watch movies with unfamiliar actors who are dubbed—there would be no reason for director David Fincher and company to have labored so mightily on this exacting remake of Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 Swedish sensation. But that’s show business. If you’re unfamiliar with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, or wonder what all the shouting’s about, you are the target audience for this picture.

The plot deals with a wealthy industrialist (Christopher Plummer) who hires a skilled reporter (Daniel Craig) to reexamine a forty-year-old, unsolved mystery: the sudden disappearance of his niece. Craig’s unlikely ally in researching the case is a strange, antisocial but talented computer hacker—and analyst of information—named Lisbeth Salander, (Rooney Mara). Larsson’s story not only deals with investigative journalism (less so in this telling than in the original film) and societal corruption, but a series of horrifying attacks on women which are echoed by Salander’s own experiences. The viewer is spared little in a notorious rape scene and its shocking aftermath; these moments were tough to endure in the Swedish movie and they’re just as difficult this time around. (It was at this point that I started to wonder why I was subjecting myself to something so repellent—for the second time.)

Fincher, of course, has traveled this road before in films like Se7en and Zodiac. He brings all his considerable skill to bear in spinning this serpentine story; the frigid atmosphere of snowy Sweden is palpable from start to finish. His methodical setup of the film’s many characters and story threads leaves no stone unturned. On the whole, I admire Steven Zaillian’s screenplay, too. He’s made a few interesting changes, but I miss the passion that was evident in the journalist’s every move and utterance in the original film. Daniel Craig does a good job, and takes a lighter approach than Michael Nyqvist (who can now be seen playing a bad guy in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol), although Robin Wright is wasted in the abbreviated role of his editor and bedmate. Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, and Steven Berkoff are fine in key supporting roles. As for Mara, she’s convincing as the inscrutable, androgynous Lisbeth Salander—a character who becomes more understandable in the second and third installments of the trilogy—but it’s hard not to come away with the feeling that she’s repeating what Noomi Rapace already accomplished.

I realize that this version, with a well-known cast, will reach a much wider audience than any foreign-language movie could in the U.S., but it still seems a shame that so much effort and money have been expended on a replica of a perfectly good Swedish movie.

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  • Elaine | February 18, 2013 11:50 PMReply

    Noy sure if I'll be able to see this version. Saw the original Swedish version and loved it. Very graphic, but really well done. Not always a big fsn of American remakes. I've seen too many adaptations of foreign films, and am always left disappointed.
    On another note though, I rmember watching this film and thinking that the main character reminded me of Daniel thing I know.........huh.

  • Patrick M. Gouin | February 10, 2012 4:32 PMReply

    After 8 weeks, the theatre is still full. In this 2nd viewing, I caught up with what I missed first time around. Loved it again. The DVD will join my permanent collection. Can't wait for the sequels.

  • Patrick M. Gouin | January 26, 2012 12:01 PMReply

    A Swedish cinematic trilogy which was a great hit in its country and we can understand why. Americans feel obliged to remake these foreign gems with often unfortunate results, but not this time. My state of mind after seeing this film in one word: WOW!
    An extraordinary film on so many levels. A mysterious modern whodunit in which the story is peeled away one layer at a time, without revealing the rest to come. An almost futurist thriller, where the new information technologies are center stage. An imagery of reality in the raw. Complex and vulnerable characters. Fast paced action which keeps you riveted to the screen for more than 2 hours. And what can be said of this resilient character, Lisabeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo who dominates all her scenes in a role which surely will mark cinematic history for years to come, no less. Even Daniel Craig earns my kudos for his role. There are so many ways to appreciate this film that I’ll probably go back for a second viewing while it is still in the theatres. It’s really that good. Six weeks after its release and the theatre is sold out, a rare feat nowadays. Truly a standout film.

  • Joey | January 19, 2012 2:02 PMReply

    Am I the only one who watched this film solely for Trent Reznor's score? Don't get me wrong, I loved the movie (never saw the original, probably won't until the American Trilogy is over because I'm a huge fan of Daniel Craig) for the story as well, but the score is just too haunting to resist.

  • my take | January 12, 2012 4:50 PMReply

    why was the rape scene so graphic? was it really necessary to the plotline to have the audience sit through an anal rape scene in a wideshot? couldn't they have conveyed the same story without the graphic detail? people in the movie theatre i was in literally walked out and did not return. i only wish i had gotten up with them. that was something i did not need to see.

  • Joey | January 19, 2012 1:58 PM

    If you need to ask this question then I think you should go read the books and then read about background for the trilogy to begin with. It's all about the message, not being graphic/crude.

  • Jeffrey | December 21, 2011 1:04 PMReply

    First of all, I'm happy this is not a film I have to see. I was hoping I would get to skip it. But can we please tone down the anti-American rhetoric on this blog? Please? Freedom of speech has its place, but calling Americans anti-intellectual philistines gets on my nerves, primarily because its not true.

  • Mark | April 13, 2012 9:34 AM

    Albert, it's pretty anti-intellectual to accuse someone of being anti-intellectual simply because they have different tastes and opinions than you.

  • Albert | January 1, 2012 3:49 PM

    It is true, at least up to a certain point. Why do you think the original Swedish version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" made only ten million while this one has already made 57 million dollars - and in only eleven days? It's because in addition to the book's reputation, which made Americans more eager to see a film version of it, they don't have to read subtitles while listening to another language!
    As for anti-intellectualism, why do you think Americans elected George W. Bush President rather than Al Gore or John Kerry? It's because they prefer a U.S. President who is a 'good ol' boy" that you can have a beer with rather than someone who comes off like a Harvard professor. Or take American television. Americans would much rather watch American sitcoms, westerns, and police thrillers than "Masterpiece Theatre" or a production of a great play. And they prefer country music to classical, Broadway, or even the "Easy Listening" music that used to be played on the radio.
    That is anti-intellectualism.

  • Karen | December 21, 2011 12:16 AMReply

    I remember when my sister excitedly told me several months back: "They're making a movie of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo!"

    To which I replied: "um, they actually made movies of the entire Trilogy and I've seen them all . . . "

    Many Americans are simply adverse to subtitles - I find it ridiculous to pass up a good film because it is subtitled (unless you have especially bad eyesight) but it happens all of the time. I don't even recommend subtitled films to friends or family anymore because I know they won't watch it.

    Now dubbing, that is a completely different story. Dubbing is HORRENDOUS.

    As for Norm: watch the original. I will probably see this American version but only on DVD.

  • David | December 20, 2011 4:44 PMReply

    Mmm, both the Swedish and American movies are based on a series of books. There's a difference between remaking a film, and making a readaptation

  • Martin Grams | December 20, 2011 4:35 PMReply

    I saw the Swedish film (all three of them) through Netflix, since they are out on DVD. I loved them and in watching the trailer for this version, I too was wondering if this was not going to be a scene-for-scene remake. My wife wouldn't read a subtitled movie so we'll go see it simply for the wife who keeps asking to go to the theater and see it. I agree, the Swedish movie was great.

  • Norm | December 20, 2011 4:26 PMReply

    Gee Leonard, now I don't know what to do...See the Swedish version or go to the show to see the newer one...

  • Joey | January 19, 2012 2:04 PM

    Watch both? It is an option...

  • vvv | December 21, 2011 7:09 AM

    If you don't mind sub-titles, watch the Swedish versions.
    MUCH bettter

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