Film Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

On paper this should be an absolute winner. The opening to Stieg Larsson’s mammoth Millennium trilogy, directed by Hollywood heavyweight David Fincher and backed with a seriously impressive cast list. There is so much potential to like that it appears the only real debate is the actual need for the film. After all, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and it’s sibling sequels, already exist in well received native Swedish versions, but the success of the books meant that a wider, English version, was always going to be made.

This is only the second time that I have seen Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, and I remember the first time around being so encapsulated by the story and the film that I actually went out and bought the book of The Girl Who Played with Fire because I wanted to know, as quickly as possible, how the story continued.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo DVD & The Girl Who Played With Fire Book

This time around though I found the film less engaging and interesting. It’s been so long since my original viewing that I had forgotten all but a few fleeting points, and thankfully, had no recollection of “who dun’it” as it were, but it just didn’t draw me in or get under my skin in the way I remember.

It’s not a short film at over two-and-a-half hours, and while it’s not slow there is a real sense of it being extended out as two films tacked together. One, the murder mystery, has such a level of thoroughness to it that you feel almost overwhelmed by the sheer amount of plot on offer. And so, when everything it’s part is concluded, and you expect the film to naturally finish it almost feels wrong to suddenly be thrust into a new side story. This extra element while potentially clever, comes in such a way that it feels at odds as you are already subconsciously switching off. The boxes ticked and doors closed to the story and characters, so to be asked to refocus makes everything feel extended and drawn out.

David Fincher - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Looking at the film as a whole and taking both “stories” together, while interesting I just feel it isn’t anything like as satisfying as it could be. It feels cold and removed, and creates a sense than you are nothing more than an observer. I think it may be a complaint towards the direction style of David Fincher more than anything though, as I remember feeling the same towards Gone Girl, another of his films. For example, the investigation that forms the backbone to the film never really packs any emotion. It draws you in, but only in a way that causes you to ponder and guess where it’s going, rather than really allowing you to understand the motives of the characters or the actions they take, or get really caught up in the mystery. So when they finally conclude it, while visually it seems OK, the more you think about it the more you suddenly realise that elements onto which large weight was previously supported is now, without remorse, ignored and passed over. Forgotten as unimportant, or hidden as unexplainable.

Rooney Mara is stunning though as Lisbeth Salander and just oozes every emotion needed straight from the screen. You truly buy into her being this clever but vulnerable woman, whose life has been torn apart by the system until she is left untrusting and weathered by the constant battle for survival. Daniel Craig fails to match Mara sadly, and while is still convincing as a methodical, analytical thinker and writer, through out the film I just kept feeling he wasn’t quite right for the part, although I couldn’t come up with anyone better to play the role instead.

Daniel Craig & Rooney Mara - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

My big complaint though is the ending, the side thought. It feels slightly like it’s trying to set up the future but also, suddenly attempts to add a small smattering of emotion and compassion to the story which hadn’t contained anything like. Having tied the murder up and dragged you into unwanted territory the story just becomes strange. It doesn’t feel right, the shift in tone all wrong and it borders on becoming foolish and silly, and implausible. Also, because it’s an extra, unwanted, half an hour or so, it feels too much, too long and you spend most of it going “what, why, how, really?”. The film really doesn’t need it, it’s purely exploding a single plot point that you’d forgotten about anyway and in fact, could be wrapped up with a better explanation that still kept Salander and Blomkvist working together using another idea that touched on briefly earlier that wouldn’t have changed the tone of the film, and in my view, would be more in keeping with the characters we’ve spent so long watching.

Aside from it’s ending, I accept the film because I like the characters. It’s flawed yet rich, enjoyable yet frustrating. I can see why it’s world and those who inhabit it made the books so successful, and I think it’s a shame that the English Language follow ups have never been made, as it’s it’s left the film in limbo, and myself unsure how to continue the story. Do I read the book that I bought but never started? Or do I go to Daniel Alfredson’s original Swedish sequel and hope that it connects with it’s unrelated English sibling? Which option I chose, The Girl With The Dragon Tatto has just enough quality to win you over, but not enough refinement to be a classic.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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