The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

By Kathryn Schroeder
Released: December 21, 2011
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first film in Columbia Pictures' and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures' three-picture adaptation of Stieg Larsson's literary blockbuster "The Millenium Trilogy". Directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, the film is based on the first novel in the trilogy, which altogether have sold 65 million copies in 46 countries and become a worldwide phenomenon. The screenplay is by Steven Zaillian. The producers are Scott Rudin, Ole Sondberg, Soren Starmose, and Cean Chaffin.

Novel: Itunes Digital Nook/Paperback icon Kindle

Soundtrack: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

Swedish Film Adaptation The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009): Digital Rental/Purchase
Film Review
The much anticipated English-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" arrives with Director David Fincher at the helm and it does not disappoint. The movie is a taut thriller; full of eroticism, sex, violence, secrets, lies, and betrayals. It is a movie you want to watch from start to finish, to let it envelope you in every way, and enjoy the charge of watching Mikael (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) solve a 40-year-old mystery that is anything but ordinary.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo begins by introducing the two main characters, Lisbeth and Mikael, separately as they are not acquainted personally with one another...yet. Mikael has been hired to investigate the disappearance and assumed murder of wealthy businessman Henrik Vanger's (Christpher Plummer) niece. Lisbeth is working as an information hacker, researching people for a large corporation and her most recent assignment was Mikael. As an expository film, the first half is geared towards establishing character more than it is about bringing them together. As part of a trilogy this is imperative, and it is crafted so well you fall right in line with wanting to know everything about Lisbeth; the same cannot be said for Mikael but the disappearance of the girl is a mystery that any viewer can get behind, especially when it is discovered it is part of a serial case of murders. This is when Lisbeth and Mikael are brought together to try and solve the case as partners. They are strikingly different people, as you see in the events leading up to the their meeting.

While the film stays focused because of the case Lisbeth and Mikael are working on it is the character of Lisbeth that breathes life into The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She is not a simple woman, as one can see initially from her gothic appearance and biting manners. Pair her up with the more docile and simple Mikael and it is shocking how explicitly sexual their chemistry is together. There is quite the conundrum in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as you see violent acts performed against Lisbeth--scenes that will leave your stomach in knots; then you see the sexually charged moments with Mikael, followed by strict emotion-free mystery solving. Lisbeth is a puzzle, a severely damaged sociopath. These qualities are what make her fascinating and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a great deal more than a genre thriller. The film has a tagline as "The feel bad movie of Christmas"--it could not be any more correct as this is not a feel good movie. That is of course a compliment as this is one movie that will make you feel bad, for all the right reasons. Movies are meant to grab your attention, make your heart race, and disturb you in this genre. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo accomplishes just that, and a great deal more you have to witness to fully understand.
Stieg Larsson's bestselling "Millennium Trilogy" novels have been adapted for the screen previously in Larsson's native country of Sweden. The success of the books, and the films in turn with an unforgettable performance by Noomi Rapace (most recently of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) as the title character of Lisbeth Salander, made it clear an American adaptation would soon follow. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian was awarded the daunting task of adapting the first novel in the trilogy, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Man som hatar kvinnor)" for an English speaking audience. With a story as great, powerful, and engrossing as the book afforded him Zaillian did not have to do much in terms of development to bring the story to screen. He did have to manage to please those who have seen the Swedish version of the film and loved it, as well as those who have read the books. Adaptations of well-loved novels with strong followings are tricky, and while no one will ever be happy completely Zaillian's screenplay gives very little to be upset about--unless you really hate the T-shirt Lisbeth wears in her first encounter with Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) or the use of Swedish in the written form but everyone speaks in English--a tiny complaint that makes one consider whether the location of the film should have been adjusted for the English-language adaptation.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is essentially a two-part story that eventually comes together as one between the two main characters of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) and Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist). The entire first act focuses on the two characters separately, establishing their lives and the conflicts they are encountering. Mikael has been sued for libel and his career as an investigative reporter in shambles; Lisbeth is an information hacker who is battling her most recently named Guardian, as she is a ward of the State who is deemed unfit to manager her own life in society, in order to gain control of her finances and overcome the stigma attached to her less-than-conventional life choices. Zaillian does an incredible job of moving between the two character's storylines, keeping the viewer intrigued by them both, even as Lisbeth's story is dark, tragic, and full of pain, and Mikael's trivially bourgeois.

Either character could have become lost to the other if Zaillian strayed focus in keeping them both central in the story--he does not. Lisbeth's story, for those who know what happens to Lisbeth before she meets Mikael, is more affecting. Her character is also a great deal more interesting because of the devastating acts that occur and how she manages to fight back against those who aim to hurt her--her choices are not for the faint of heart to witness. Mikael is not a complicated man and Zaillian realizes this fully. What makes him interesting is the job he has taken on to solve a mystery surrounding a young woman's disappearance and the deaths of other women that all appear focused around one affluent family, the Vanger's. Without the inclusion of Lisbeth to help him solve the mystery Mikael would dissolve into the shadows of the film, but the spark between Lisbeth's damaged soul and Mikael, who is completely intrigued with this young woman, is the key element to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The two characters may not even spend a great deal of time together on screen but they do not need to, and Zaillian does not include extra emotional moments that feel out of place to try and build a stronger tie between the two. Lisbeth and Mikael work together because of their independent distance tangled up in sexual tension filled scenes and unforgiving loyalty to one another.

Steven Zaillian clearly understood the dynamics of the characters and the mystery that is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The story is full of detail, the characters enthralling, and the mystery pieced together clearly. There are scenes that feel like unnecessary inclusions to establish the movement of time or to try and develop a side-character more fully. These scenes could have easily been forgotten, and by doing so cut down on the 2 hour and 40 minute running time of the film. That said, the movie does not feel overly long until the ending because of the epilogue that seeks to find closure to the initial problem for Mikael, with Lisbeth's help of course. This is an important part of the trilogy's story and therefore must be included in the film but it does drag and after the incredible mystery of the Vanger family it is hard to readjust focus. Some readjusting in the structure of the final epilogue would have made it more interesting and also easier to follow yet all is made up for in the final scene of the film, an unforgettable moment for Lisbeth's character and one that is enacted on screen perfectly.
Rooney Mara. You may remember her from the The Social Network, as the girl who broke up with Mark Zuckerberg and pushed him into creating Facebook because of his anger at being dumped. A small role for Mara and one that could easily be dismissed on her resume. No one who sees The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will ever forget Rooney Mara. As Lisbeth Salander she had very big shoes to fill after Noomi Rapace's incredible performance in the Swedish adaptations. It is impossible to say she does not embody Lisbeth in every way. Her performance is incredible, and makes the entire film. Lisbeth is a complicated character; socially awkward, devastatingly fragile while always portraying a tough exterior, playing Lisbeth looks effortless for Mara--as a viewer you know it was not an easy feat. At first she does come across fairly meek, a tad too much of a pretty girl hiding behind heavy goth make-up and manly attire. The tattoo's that adorn her body signs of rebellion of a girl who is not quite sure who she is or what she is to become. Mara keeps the viewer guessing as to just how strong Lisbeth actually is, or whether it is all a carefully crafted facade. Her crowing moment, the point in the story when you no longer doubt Mara can/is Lisbeth is when she enacts revenge on her new Guardian who has done unforgivable things to her mind and body. She is sitting on top of him, as he writhes in pain, and she proclaims that she is indeed insane, just like her file says and he believes. The wild yet composed look in her eyes creates an entirely new perception of Lisbeth for the viewer and Mara's strength in performing as the character is solidified for the viewer. Rooney Mara gives a performance worthy of accolades, and her version of Lisbeth is frighteningly realistic, with strength and vulnerability.

There are of course the other performances to consider as well. Daniel Craig's Mikael does not disappoint either, even if his character lacks any real depth of emotion that must be portrayed. Christopher Plummer's Henrik Vanger is a sad soul, burdened with the mysterious death of his niece. Stellan Skarsgard steps up brilliantly as the suave Martin Vanger who holds deep evil secrets. His final scene in the film haunts you with the honey-tinged delivery of immoral revelations. Every actor's performance in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is significant and performed as to not blemish the overall experience of a movie filled with varying types of characters and circumstances.

Mystery, Thriller
Release Date
December 21, 2011
MPAA Rating
Running Time
2 hours 40 minutes
Production Designer
Music Score
Auteur Consideration