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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

A 2011 movie directed by David Fincher.

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The Most Beautiful Movie of 2011 about the Ugliest Subject Material of All

  • Jan 8, 2012
If there were an award for most unsettling film of 2011 or best use of black eye-liner, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would be a shoe-in. That’s not to say it isn’t a good movie, in fact it’s brilliant. It’s gorgeously shot, beautifully paced, has a once-in-a-lifetime performance by Rooney Mara and strings you along for one of the best mysteries I’ve ever tagged along for. That being said, it’s still one of the darkest, most mature films I’ve seen in my young adult life, an experience that I’ll never quite be able to shake, for better or worse. The movie follows an aged journalist named Mikael (Daniel Craig) who’s hired by an elderly gentleman (Christopher Plummer) to figure out exactly what happened to a young girl on their island 40 years ago when she went missing. Accompanying him is top-notch researched Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a deeply troubled young woman with her own set of problems. I’m always cautious going in to see a mystery movie in theaters, mainly because it seems like I always get lost. On TV when there’s a mystery being solved I have the commercial breaks to piece things together, but in almost every new mystery thriller by the time the third act rolls around I’m just nodding my head like a befuddled eighth-grader in advanced math class. I’m sure the 2 1/2 hour runtime had something to do with it, but there was never a point in Tattoo that I felt just utterly lost with no idea what was going on, which is really saying something considering our screening was at 10:30 at night. The mystery is simple yet elegant, matching a very serious yarn that takes a few detours and turns here and there with patient enough pacing from Fincher to make always keep you intrigued but also entertained. “Entertained” not being a word I expected to use to describe this movie going in given its sluggish outlook, but I am gratefully wrong. Fincher strings you along through the whole film from set piece to set piece, never overstaying his welcome in each setting and raising the curtain on key information for his mystery little by little, stringing you along like a dog on a leash. There’s rarely a dull moment in Tattoo, each scene seems to have a purpose (which is commendable at this film’s runtime), no matter how drearily dark that point might be. If anything the end of the film does drag on a bit too long, there’s an extra scene or two added on the end to “tie things up” that could have and should have been pushed over to the next film, and here just feel like “dead weight”. Does it add to the film? Yes. However there are several shots that take place before this 5-10 minute sequence that would have worked just fine as its “fade to black, roll the credits” ending. Fincher also does a commendable job at creating one of the most strikingly gorgeous movies of the year. A lot of the movie was shot in Sweden where the story actually takes place, which was possibly an unwise move by Sony given how much extra it cost them but the end result definitely paid off. Snow has never looked better; in fact, dimly lit apartments, well-it torture chambers and a Swedish winter landscape are all beautifully captured in a way similar to how the Coen’s captured the look of the Old West in last year’s marvel “True Grit”. The outdoor shots are gorgeously bleak, capturing the hopeless vibe of the hopeless situation there in Sweden, and on the opposite spectrum the indoor shots are dark, shady, and grippingly foreboding. Much like the way Fincher painted his picture with last year’s masterpiece The Social Network, Fincher creates a similar look that he uses a lot to convey mood and even foreshadow where a scene’s going to go. If you catch yourself thinking, “Hey, this scene’s pretty dark”, chances are you’re right, and things are about to hit the fan.
Sure, I could recommend the film based on the cinematography or the engaging mystery alone, but the real focus of the movie a decade from now is going to be how Rooney Mara absolutely stole this show and ran with it. The 26-year-old actress redefines the word “dedication”, clearly dedicating everything she had both physically and emotionally to this incredibly deep character. Mara turns in the strongest female dramatic performance of the year, and is completely unrecognizable in both bodily and psychologically in this perfectly realized character in what was the best possible marriage between script and an actor seeing the potential therein. Daniel Craig, who’s not given a whole lot to do in this movie character-wise, makes the best of what he’s given. Honestly speaking, Mikhail isn’t the most interesting character; he’s just the character that’s essentially setting up dominoes for Rooney Mara to knock down as Lisbeth Salander. Craig’s not going to get any award recognition for his part here, but as a fly on the wall for the most part he does a fine job. I almost wish Screenwriter Steve Zallian would have given him more to do, if anything else so we could have gotten two outstanding performances instead of just one. What’s really of note is Christopher Plummer’s small part in the movie as the employer, basically the guy setting this whole investigation in motion. There’s just something his quiet intensity and subtle demeanor that absolutely communicates the pain and anguish his character’s went through. Stellan Skarsgard, in an even smaller but definitely more significant role for the movie gives a tremendous performance. It starts out as a subtle act, but the farther the movie goes along the more liberty he takes with his admittedly demented character. The film may be mostly remembered for Mara’s extraordinary performance as Salander, but one thing I’m also going to remember the film for is how brave the movie is with its unabashedly bleak subject matter. I’m not sure why anyone would take their kid to an R-rated movie, but in the case of Dragon Tattoo I implore you, I URGE you to not take anyone to this movie that couldn’t get in by themselves. The movie is beautifully dark and always takes an artistic approach to its violence and bleakness, never exploiting the brutality for show or for gimmick, which sets it apart from a lot of the “torture porn” you see every year filling the theater. The point I’m trying to make is basically that the film is clear from the start as a mature movie dealing with very mature elements, and it embraces those elements with open arms, which makes it a better movie in the end. It’s refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t hold any punches, but at the same time it makes for a brutal viewing experience. Fincher’s adaptation, as well as the original source material I’m sure, is an exploration of evil, asking the question of why evil people do evil things and how evil people can live with themselves, and naturally you’re going to enter some unsettling, uncomfortable material. There were some scenes in the movie that I physically couldn’t watch because it was more graphic than I wanted to watch. The movie isn’t as good as Fincher’s far more original work from last year, The Social Network, but it’ll still stand on its own as a remarkable thriller. All in all, David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” lives up to its title as “the feel bad movie of the year”, but it also just so happens to be one of the best movies of the year, period. It’s unapologetically dark, and it tells one of the best stories of the year with one of the best performances of the year. Ironically enough it’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen all year while dealing with the ugliest subject matter of all. 

4.5 out of 5

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January 08, 2012
Your review title alone mirrors my overall feelings about it. This was a good movie, I guess I just preferred the Swedish adaptation more. Great review!
More The Girl with the Dragon Tatto... reviews
review by . December 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
David Fincher's Stylish, Dark, Sexier
When I first heard of the American remake of the Swedish film released in 2009 based on the internationally acclaimed novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (original title “The Man Who Hate Women”), I have to admit I wasn’t too excited; that is until I learned that director David Fincher would be at its helm. Fincher is a director whose works I liked from “Se7en”, “Fight Club” and even “The Zodiac”. The film is more of a re-interpretation …
review by . March 01, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
Nazis, Rape, Torture and Happy Meals.
I'm finally tackling it.      When I got the invite to come to this site almost 4 years ago, there was one topic that dominated my emails about updates on Lunch, and that was this subject:  I don't remember exactly if it was the Swedish films that people were talking about or if it was the novels published after the Author's death but one this was certain:  Whatever this movie or book was about, with a name that could be a James Bond title for a movie: this …
review by . August 27, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Revenge is better when served cold.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," was one of the most suspenseful novels that I've had the pleasure of reading.      I had also seen the original movie with subtitles and enjoyed that also.      With the 2011 film, directed by David Fincher, I have, once again, been greatly entertained.      The story is based on a Swedish journalist, Mikael Blomkvist suffering a legal defeat on a case where he is accused of slander.   …
review by . December 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A Very Dark, Brutal, and Gripping Film.
Following the very successful adaptation of Stieg Larssons millennium trilogy into three very successful Swedish language films, it came as no surprise when Hollywood announced that it would be making an English-language version of the series. Director David Fincher was announced to craft the first book in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The new version follows very close to the original material with one fairly big exception which I will detail later in the review. Daniel Craig stars …
review by . July 19, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
***1/2 out of ****    By now, we all know the story. Corrupt Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) - having just lost a libel case against the billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerstrom - accepts a job given to him by the affluent Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to re-open and solve a 40-year old case involving the old man's niece Harriet, who went missing all those years ago at an annual family gathering and as of now is still considered murdered, although there doesn't …
review by . December 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Watching the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was actively engaged with its dual storylines, but I also found myself pondering which of the two was the more important. Now that David Fincher has made an English-language remake, I find myself pondering what went wrong. Here is a mystery thriller so cold, so distant, and so lacking in energy that it feels neither mysterious nor thrilling. It follows the plot of the original …
review by . December 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Dragon Tattoo Take 2
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO Written by Steve Zaillian Directed by David Fincher Starring Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard   Armansky: I’m concerned you won’t like her. She’s different. Frode: In what way? Armansky: In every way.   I always say that film criticism is an inherently subjective practice and reviewing David Fincher’s remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is the perfect example to prove this. It has …
review by . January 03, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
      Fincher's dark and mute direction in his retake of Stieg Larssen's trilogy-novel was somehow expected but I never thought it will turn out to be so haunting and fresh. Spectacular technical detail, from beginning to the very end. A charismatic and harsh sample of great journalism, character study, and thrilling evolution. A variety of dramatic colors and a cold and poisonous atmosphere that made this movie memorable.      The Girl With the Dragon …
review by . January 02, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
After viewing the fairly well-produced and well-adapted "Girl" trilogy of films (based on the Millennium novels by the late Stieg Larrson) by director Niels Arden Oplev, the question, "Why see yet another version of this same story?" (even if it is done in English, Hollywood style) may just cross one's mind especially in a diminished economy where frugality renders duplication superfluous. However close to the perfection of the author's vision Noomi Rapace's performance might have been, Rooney Mara's …
review by . December 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
It has been tough to escape the Millennium trilogy for the past three years. Author Stieg Larsson left his trilogy unpublished, it wasn’t until after his death that the books hit the shelves and became a worldwide phenomenon. It then became a movie made in Sweden which did not shine away from the darker parts of the story with European audiences unafraid to deal with such issues. When trying to make an American version of the film the studios called on none other than David Fincher who previously …
About the reviewer
Jake Wilbanks ()
Ranked #53
   My name's Jake, I write film reviews and the occasional music/video game/comic/tech review. I've been involved in journalism over the past 3 years, and am currently majoring in Journalism … more
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A murder mystery rife with suspense, scandal, sexual abuse, and some supremely intriguing characters,The Girl with the Dragon Tattoois an excellently crafted film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's equally fascinating book of the same name. Larsson's book was also the basis of a 2009 Swedish film (also with the same title), and while the Swedish film was good, this American version is far superior, thanks to fantastic cinematography and livelier pacing that results in a constant, electric tension that drives every second of the movie. The breathtaking footage of a snowy, remote island in Sweden thoroughly exudes bitter cold, and the attention to the smallest details, like the whistling of the wind through a door left ajar, makes the hairs on the back of viewers' necks absolutely prickle. Like the book, the film is long (158 minutes), there's an abundance of dialogue that is never awkward and always efficient, and there are plenty of false endings. The suspense and the intricacy of the mystery are stellar, and even viewers who know the story well will find themselves sucked into the riddle being investigated by journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). The casting is great, as are the performances of all the key actors, but by far the best thing about this film is Rooney Mara, who is utterly believable as the incredibly strong, extremely disturbed Lisbeth Salander, Blomkvist's unlikely assistant. Mara's performance is chillingly real and completely ...
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Director: David Fincher
Release Date: December 20, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: Mar. 20, 2012
Runtime: 158 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment
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