Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

By Matthew Huntley

January 4, 2012

No, I wanted to shave *you*.

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David Fincher’s American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will likely draw inevitable comparisons to Neil Arden Oplev’s Swedish original, not to mention Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel. This was always going to be the case and because Oplev’s film was so well made and revered, the question many people will have on their minds is whether Fincher’s adaptation is really necessary.

To me, the ultimate answer is no. However, that’s not to say Fincher’s film is not exceptionally well made, both on a technical and dramatic level. Simply, it doesn’t interpret the source material so vastly differently from the original that its making seems wholly justifiable. What’s interesting is that if Fincher’s version came out first, I would have said the same thing about Oplev’s. The two adaptations are practically interchangeable in terms of their effect, but because I saw Oplev’s first, Fincher’s didn’t have the same impact. It’s not a matter of which one is better or worse, but whether or not we really need both. I would say no, but both are worthy, so take your pick.

What make these pictures so memorable are the strongly drawn characters and the unsettling atmospheres that inhabit Larsson’s layered plot, which is a traditional whodunit in many respects but one that’s grounded in intelligence and rich details, which keep us fully involved as it thickens and unravels.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a Swedish journalist who works for an independent newspaper in Stockholm. He’s just lost a libel suit brought against him by an ethically suspicious businessman and financier named Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg). The suit costs Blomkvist his life savings and puts the newspaper in financial jeopardy. His editor-lover, Erika (Robin Wright), is now concerned they’ll be out of business in three months.


Given his recent reputation, Blomkvist is surprised when he receives a call from Dirch Frode (Steven Berkoff), assistant to Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy industrialist whose family’s business was once the biggest and most profitable in all of Sweden (Vanger now jokes their most successful product is fertilizer). Vanger invites Blomkvist out to his family’s private island in Hedestad and hires him to do two things: 1) write his memoirs; and 2) attempt to solve the murder of his beloved niece, Harriet, who was presumably murdered over 40 years ago.

Every year on his birthday, Henrick still receives a black and white flower drawing, which only Harriet would send, and he believes one of his family members is behind it and trying to torment him. Most of the Vanger family, including Henrick’s nephew (Stellan Skarsgård), live on the island and are a stone’s throw away from one another, but most are estranged and refuse to speak. Blomkvist takes Henrick up on his offer, not only for the money (Vanger promises to quadruple his salary if he solves it) but because Henrick says he has valuable information on Wennerström that Blomkvist could use as ammunition.

In a parallel plot, we meet the titular character, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a freelance researcher and computer hacker who can dig up information on just about anybody. In fact, it was her research on Blomkvist that led Frode to contact him in the first place on Vanger’s behalf. Lisbeth is viewed as a sociopath and outcast because of her black clothes, nose rings and tattoos, but don’t let her appearance fool you: she’s resourceful, creative and persistent to the point where you don’t want her on your bad side, something her abusive case worker (Yorick van Wageningen) learns the hard way.

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