David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the second film adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel by the same name. The film follows the story of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), and how they get wrapped up in a tangled web of mystery relating to the dreadfully dysfunctional Vanger family. The entire film is set in contemporary Sweden and plays almost entirely off of a hostile climate of backstabbing and mistrust.
Interestingly, the original Swedish title of the novel is Män som hatar kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women. I am of the opinion that the English title strongly belies the brutality present in the story of the two principle characters, and that the original more accurately describes the content of the film. Make no mistake, every part of Dragon Tattoo is as visceral and as acutely executed as you should expect from a crime drama. Sexual violence abounds, and there are several scenes that are quite difficult to watch. This is not a film for people with weak stomachs for in-your-face sadism.
This isn’t to say Fincher’s work exploitative or over-the-top. As someone who did not read the original novel I cannot attest to this, but I do know people who have and they claim there is even more risqué content that has been left out of the movie. From what I could see, every action has a consequence and no scene is shot for the sake of cheap thrills or to simply elicit visceral reactions. There is always a point, and it takes someone with skill like David Fincher to handle these difficult plot points so effectively.
Fincher’s hallmarks are of course present in this film, down to his signature cut-through-wall shots. Fans of the director will find the overall feel of the film comfortingly familiar. His knack for bringing a sort of sterile coarseness to the universe he is filming is ever-present and lends to his bleak depiction of the underbelly of modern Sweden.
Playing one of the central characters in Dragon Tattoo, Daniel Craig gives one of his most affecting performances yet, proving that he does indeed have the chops for high-impact drama as much as he does for high-octane action. Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander is both a fascinating rebel archetype with a clearly complex backstory that makes her character an absolute scene-stealer. In combination, this unlikely pairing yields one of the most compelling on-screen partnerships in recent memory.
The film also gets extra points for one of the best opening credit sequences of all time. This remarkable introduction to the movie sets a tone and artistic direction for the rest of the film. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is certainly an aesthetic triumph and should be commended for its attention to detail.
In fact, Dragon Tattoo should be commended for being an excellent film on the whole that makes few, if any, major missteps. This is another knockout piece from David Fincher, a very impressive showing from Daniel Craig, and a breakout performance for Rooney Mara. It is well-worth your time.
You may never listen to Enya the same way again, however. Consider yourself warned.
Verdict: Movie Win