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 as Mikael Blomkvist, who at the opening of the film has recently lost a court case for which he was being sued for libel by a prominent business figure. His career is in ruins and virtually all of his savings gone as a result of the trial and punitive damages. So when he is contacted by an attorney representing the wealthy and powerful Vanger family, he agrees to meet. Although highly reluctant to take a meeting, Mikael takes the four hour train ride north of Stockholm to a cold and remote island to meet with Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Henrik wishes Mikael to investigate the disappearance of his niece some 40 years earlier, a niece vanished under the families’ very noses and not a trace of her has been discovered since. Henrik is convinced that she has met with foul play, yet every year on his birthday, he continues to receive a gift of ornate pressed flowers in an anonymous package.
Henrik believes that the killer is haunting him by sending the gifts and that a member of his family may be to blame. Although skeptical of being able to find anything 40 years later, Mikael accepts the case and soon sets up residence in a small cabin on the island and begins his investigation by combing through police reports, conducting interviews, and examining photographs and newspaper clippings. Mikael had been warned that the other members of the Vanger family may not be too thrilled with his presence as not only is the family fractured, they all have their share of secrets.
At the same time, a very Goth punk girl named Lisabeth (Rooney Mara), is fighting her own demons. Lisabeth is an extremely gifted computer and surveillance expert who specializes in gathering background information on individuals. As such, her skills have made her in high demand with her employer. Unfortunately, Lisabeth is also a deeply antisocial person who is prone to lash out violently if provoked. Much of this stems from an extremely traumatic childhood spent in institutions which resulted in Lisabeth being placed as a ward of the state, not deemed competent to care for herself. This arrangement requires her to check in on a regular basis with a representative who, unfortunately for her, has recently suffered a stroke and places her in the care of the new guardian.
The new guardian subjects Lisabeth to horrific demands just so Lisabeth can access her money. The traumatized Lisabeth does not play victim long and in a twist of fate, is assigned by Henrik’s attorney to assist Mikael since she did the background check on him prior to Mikael being approached by Henrik for the investigation. The unlikely duo combined to form a highly efficient pair as they start to piece together the clues which indicate a brutal string of murders leading back for decades. As they work together, the relationship deepens and the reserved Lisabeth starts to come out of her shell. Tension mounts as danger surrounds them in an epic race against time to solve the case that certain members of the family do not want solved.
The film runs approximately 2 hours and 45 min and does take a little while to get started as the landscape and back story of the characters is established. The film has some very dark and brutal moments, which are hard to watch, yet were not as graphic as those in the Swedish language version. Craig and Mara work very well with one another and props to Craig for being willing to put on weight and occasionally looked disheveled to enhance his character.
Mara gives a masterful performance as the complicated Lisabeth, the anti-damsel-in-distress heroine, who subtly shows the many complicated sides to the character. Noomi Rapace first portrayed the character and has gone on to prominent success in Hollywood with a slew of upcoming high profile films. I would expect nothing less for Mara with two other sequels in this series to film. I am sure this breakout performance will not go unnoticed as it is an extremely difficult and daring role that few in Hollywood would want to tackle, much less be able to pull off as convincingly as she did.
I was extremely happy to see that the character names, settings, and situations were not changed in the new version, and it was refreshing to see the film set in Sweden and not relocated to London or New York. The biggest issue I had with the film was with the ending, which deviated from the previous versions. I will not provide spoilers, suffice it to say the resolution was a bit too tidy of a Hollywood ending and in my opinion greatly undermined one of the central characters of the film. That being said the film is a bold and dynamic vision from Fincher and is a deeply dark and disturbing story that is difficult to forget.
4.5 stars out of 5
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