The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo--A Robwrite review

Rooney Mara; as Lisbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo (left); and as herself

An engrossing but very unsettling film


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (3 stars out of 5)


For people who are familiar with the best-selling book by Stieg Larsson or the 2009 Swedish film version of the novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mostly faithful adaptation of the story and it will probably depend on how you feel about the casting as to whether or not you like the new version. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, your opinion of the film will depend on your tolerance for intensely graphic and disturbing imagery, because there is quite a lot of it here.


Director David Fincher is known for his no-holds-barred style of directing films with violent imagery, such as Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac. This film most closely resembles Se7en, in that it deals with a serial killer who uses a specific theme as a motif for committing acts of extreme violence. Of course, the killer isn’t the only one in the film who needs therapy. The film is replete with images of violence, rape and sexual humiliation. So viewers be warned that this film is not for those who have a low tolerance for graphically depicted scenes of a disturbing nature.


The plot, which takes place in Sweden, is split in two halves at the beginning of the film but comes together halfway through. One story deals with muckraking journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who is hit with a massive libel suit after printing an erroneous story, and sees his career going down in flames. In order to escape the ever-present reporters who are hounding him and to make a few extra bucks for his legal defense, Mikael takes a job on a privately-owned island helping billionaire Henrik Vanger (Played by the great Christopher Plummer, still giving strong performances at 82) write his memoirs. It turns out, however, that Mr. Vanger has another objective in mind aside from just telling his life story. He wants to solve a 40 year-old murder.


We learn that 40-years earlier, Vanger’s beloved niece Harriet mysteriously vanished from the private island owned by the Vanger family, on a day when a car crash blocked the bridge which is the only access to and from the island. Vanger has become convinced that one of his family killed Harriet, since they were the only ones on the island at the time. He has been consumed with the disappearance since and he wants it solved soon because he is getting old and wants to know the truth before he dies. Learning of Mikael’s experience at getting to the truth of complicated news stories, he hires Mikael to go through his archived records to see if he can shed some light on Harriet’s disappearance. Mikael begins the research and starts interviewing surviving members of the bizarre Vanger family, some of whom are ex-Nazis. These relatives include Vanger’s nephew Martin (Stellan Skarsgard), and niece Anita (Joely Richardson).


Meanwhile, in the parallel plot, we are introduced to the eponymous, tattooed Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Lisbeth is a troubled 24 year old Goth-girl with more piercings and tattoos all over her body than a whole rock band. She has had a lot of problems with the law in her life and is a ward of the state. However, she is also a first-rate computer hacker and deceptively clever. She hires herself out as a researcher for people who want background information-checks done quickly, efficiently and covertly. (She can also beat the tar out of a purse-snatcher who unwisely chooses her knapsack as his latest target.)


Lisbeth has a lot of bad luck. Her kindly former guardian has had a debilitating stroke and she is assigned a new official named Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen) who controls how much money she gets each week and whether or not she is judged incompetent to live on her own. Bjurman is a sadist pervert who thinks that the girls placed under his authority are there as his personal concubines. He foolishly believes that Lisbeth, like the other girls, will be resigned to lying down (literally and figuratively) for him. She puts up with his perversions until she decides to retaliate in her own inventive and vindictive way.


The two stories dovetail when Mikael becomes so convinced that the Vanger family is hiding something, he decides he needs a research assistant and talented hacker to help him get to the bottom of the things. He chooses Lisbeth since she did the background check on him before Vanger’s lawyer Frode (Steven Berkoff) hired Mikael. After some initial discomfort on Lisbeth’s part, the two begin to bond and Lisbeth becomes an assistant-with-benefits (nudge, wink).


Together, they connect Harriet’s disappearance to a serial killer who makes Jack the Ripper look like a pro-feminist. Clues uncover the theme to the killer’s modus operandi. But which member of the family is it? Also, it seems the killer knows they are getting close because attempts are made on Mikael’s life. Can he and Lisbeth find the killer before the killer gets them?


The film keeps the setting is Sweden, mostly to satisfy purists of the book and previous film, but it does cause some inconsistencies; such as the fact that the news articles they research are all in English when they were printed in a Swedish paper. (Good for the American viewers but bad for internal logic). Most of the non-Swedish cast tries their best to fake some sort of accent, except Craig who doesn’t bother.


Craig does a good job as the down-and-almost-out Mikael who remains a sympathetic character, despite his numerous indiscretions. (He is intimately involved with his editor Ericka--played by Robin Wright--who is married. She suspects that Mikael is also getting something extra on the side from Lisbeth, and she’s right.) Craig puts aside his Bondian heroism and gives a very subdued performance. Christopher Plummer makes the most of his limited screen time and reminds us in just a few scenes why he is one of the greats. Stellan Skarsgard also gives a nice supporting performance.


But the real key to the film is Rooney Mara as the titular character. Fans of the previous film may be so used to Noomi Rapace’s rather feral performance as Lisbeth, they may have a hard time getting used to Mara’s interpretation of the character. Mara’s Lisbeth is cold and closed-off on the surface, but underneath she has a plethora of pain which she tries not to show. Lisbeth is a broken person but a formidable one nonetheless; often dangerous. She dislikes most people and often seems to have good reasons to, yet there is something indomitable about her. Mara does a good job making Lisbeth simultaneously eerie and sympathetic.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an engrossing mystery although people who are familiar with the previous versions will know what happens. The film was planned to be the first in a trilogy, just as the books and the Swedish films were; however, judging by the poor opening-weekend box office, this may be the last we’ll see of Lisbeth’s dragon tattoo. Why isn’t it doing well? Maybe it’s remake-overkill or maybe the graphic violence and rape just weren’t in the proper Christmas spirit for this time of year. (You can understand after seeing it why the original title of the book was the Men who hate Women) Fincher does seem to revel in the imagery here, such as when the camera gives us a long look at a bloodied, mutilated cat from several angles. It seems almost gratuitous. So let the viewer beware; don’t take any kids to see this movie and you may want to think twice about seeing it yourself if you don’t like blood and violence, rape. (I’d have rated this film a whole point higher if it had cut back on the gore and sexual assaults.)


Mildly recommended but beware of unsettling content.


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Comments 24 comments

epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

...well Sir Rob you certainly are a world class film reviewer (not to mention as a writer and hubber too) and I was most interested in this particular film essay having seen the original Swedish film trilogy and as you know sometimes Hollywood has a way of screwing things up in terms of remakes although they did a really great job on another Swedish classic Let the right one in - the children's vampire movie ......thank you for hanging out with me during 2011 - I value your friendship and always admire your work - please acceept my best wishes for continued health and happiness in the coming new year and perhaps a fling with the fabulous Ms. Jolie -

lol

lake erie time 2:58pm


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

Superb review Rob! I didn't read the books or watch the Swedish films BUT I did see the movie yesterday. I gave it 4 outta 5 stars because I found it interesting and intriguing. There were a few parts I could have done w/o such as the rape scene and the payback. Hopefully those images will leave my head soon. I kind of guessed who the killer was since he's played the bad guy in almost every movie I've seen him in so that was a bit disappointing. Daniel Craig was fabulous and Rooney was awesome!! She is completely opposite her character in real life (from what she's said during interviews). I still don't know how the Dragon Tattoo came about...the flick didn't tell us unless my husband and I both missed that part. I intend to read the books one day to fill in the missing pieces, which I'm now hearing is a LOT of pieces! Voted UP and AWESOME!


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Colin; Thank you again for the kind words. You are always generous with praise. I didn't see the vampire film, so I'll have to catch that one.

I've enjoyed reading your poems. Have a great New Year,

Thanks again for the input and the kind words,

Rob


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi sunshine; I haven't read the books either and I'd be curious to compare them but I understand that the film is rather faithful. I'd like to find out more about the dragon tattoo. I agree that there are a few scenes which couldn't leave my head fast enough and I dropped the rating down a point because of that. Overall, though, I thought it was well made and well acted. And Rooney was excellent.

Thanks for stopping by,

Rob


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Hi Robwrite - I read all three books as soon as they were released. I waited for books 2 & 3! I have not seen the movie but a friend of mine has - she read all the books also and said the books were much better. I think that happens often and the movie can never hold a candle to a persons own imagination so they are often let down. I am waiting for it to come out on video...I know what happens:) lol. Great review and why I think I can wait:). Thanks for saving me some big bucks!


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi; I can't comment on the books, never having read them. It's true that books are generally better. As for the film, its not a bad movie. It's actually pretty well made. Just a bit too much torture and rape. If you don't like that stuff, wait for it on DVd where you can fast forward.

Thanks for reading,

Rob


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I look forward to seeing this movie especially after reading your review.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Susan; It's a pretty good film, just brace yourself for a few hard-to-sit-through scenes.

Thanks for the comments,

Rob


Frannie Dee profile image

Frannie Dee 4 years ago from Chicago Northwest Suburb

Great review! I agree, spend on the movie and also the books! They are well worth the time.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Frannie; From what I've heard, the books and the Swedish films are worth the time and money.

Rob


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

I did see all three of the Swedish ones! They were great! I really want to go see it and I did realize if I'm not taking the kids it might be a great excuse for a date night:) lol. The movies are so expensive but I did love your review:)


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Thanks for the compliment, Realhousewife. Enjoy date night. (Take the kids to see the Muppets.)

Rob


Highvoltagewriter profile image

Highvoltagewriter 4 years ago from Savannah GA.

I just loved that movie and I hope I will have a chance to see the other films in the trilogy. Great hub!


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi; So far, the box-office for 'TGWTDT' isn't very impressive, so the sequels are iffy. We'll have to see what happens. If it gets nominated for something, that will increase the box office and it may make a late comeback.

Thanks for reading,

Rob


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 4 years ago from London, UK

Hello, Robwrite, you are such a superb writer. The review was brilliant


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi H.H.; Thank you for the kind words. Always good to hear from my first follower.

Rob


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Nice review, having read the book, having seen the film version of the trilogy, I have to admit I will be waiting for the DVD release of this one. Reading your review of Rooney Mara seems to be closer to the book than the performance by Noomi Rapace in the other film version of the novel. Awesome hub that I voted up and useful.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Bruce; I haven't read the books so I can't say how close Mara's performance is to the source material, but she does a good job. If you're a fan of the "Dragon' series, you should like this one.

Good to hear from you,

Rob


carolinemd21 profile image

carolinemd21 4 years ago from Close to Heaven

Great review Rob! I saw this movie before Christmas and although I did like it and found it very interesting, I think that the rape scene and violence were a little too much for Christmas time. lol. Thanks for sharing with us.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

I agree with you, Caroline; Bad time of year for a film like this. I know the studios like to release the 'oscar bait' late in the year but having a movie with torture and rape come out around Christmas seems counter-intuitive.

Thanks for stopping by,

Rob


Xenonlit profile image

Xenonlit 4 years ago

Robwrite is a first rate film reviewer. I have been hearing a lot of preference for the Swedish version from my cronies, but will probably want to read the book before seeing the film.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Xenonlit; Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it. I haven't seen the Swedish versions so let me know how they stack up to the new version after you see both.

Thanks for stopping by,

Rob


CreateSquidoo profile image

CreateSquidoo 4 years ago

Love reading every hub you post here. All stuffs are fun and interesting.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi CS; Thanks for the kind words. Glad to hear you enjoy my hubs.

Glad you stopped by,

Rob

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