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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
stars
Starring Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig and Stellan Skarsgård

GOTH GIRL: Rooney Mara portrays Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Photo courtesy of Anders Lindén/Columbia Pictures.

Literary adaptations are often troubling propositions, especially considering I don’t have much interest in the kind of books that populate “The New York Times Best Sellers.” Can you blame me? This is the kind of mass-market shit that gives us five “Twilight” films and crap like “The Da Vinci Code.” These are not exactly the most intellectual of efforts.

There’s been a lot of hype around the latest series of mass-market paperbacks to be brought to life. This particular adaptation has a far better pedigree. Written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian, directed by David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Seven”), and starring everyone’s favorite chiseled brit, Daniel Craig, one would think, with this caliber of talent, we could expect something above average. For the most part, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is exactly that: above average—fine, well-constructed entertainment. Unfortunately, it’s little else.

Just a warning to those who haven’t read the books, seen the original Swedish adaptations or already seen this incarnation: Parts of my review reveal key plot spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it and plan to, stop reading now.

The story centers on a Swedish journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a recently disgraced writer who has been convicted of libel over the content of a magazine article. In the aftermath he struggles both personally and professionally. In the middle of the fallout, he is approached with a proposal from an old businessman named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Forty years ago his niece disappeared, and he believes one of the members of his family was responsible. Vanger offers Mikael a large sum of money, and the promise of restoring his good name if he can investigate the case and find out who is responsible.

The basic set-up is effectively done. It’s murder mystery 101. A half dozen suspects exist in the Vanger family and are isolated on an island, all of them a little left of center, none of them too willing to cooperate. Mikael works under the premise that he is there to help with Henrik’s biography, allowing him unfettered access to the family history. Mikael’s investigation and the craziness of the family tree is the most entertaining part of the movie. However, the most interesting part is the aforementioned girl with the dragon tattoo: Lisbeth Salander (Roomey Mara).

She’s a different kind of character. Quiet, ghost white, covered in piercings and remarkably intelligent. Lisbeth works for a security firm and helps perform the kind of in-depth background checks that aren’t exactly legal. She’s half-Goth, half-hacker and has a lot of issues. The first hour of the film is a tennis match, going back and forth between Mikael’s investigation and delving into Lisbeth’s chaotic existence. Both stories are interesting, but they don’t seem to go together. For the first half of the film, it felt like I was watching two completely different movies. Eventually Mikael meets Lisbeth through the most suspect of circumstances, and the two of them team up to solve the case.

The case itself is remarkably uncomplicated—so much so that when veteran character actor Stellan Skarsgård (“Thor,” “Melancholia”) walked onscreen, I declared, “He did it!” Two hours later, that hunch proved correct.

The main problem I have with the film is the casting. Not because it is bad, but, like in the case of Stellan Skarsgård, it’s brutally obvious Daniel Craig is a great actor, but he’s better served playing men of action. He works well when he’s acting out a guy who runs at the guy firing a gun, not scurrying away like a frightened deer. Lisbeth is a fascinating character, and Rooney Mara does a great job of making her equal parts likable and sympathetic, which is not always an easy task. The film is at its most entertaining when Lisbeth and Mikael are onscreen, pouring over the details of the case or falling into romantic entanglements. Everything else around them doesn’t feel nearly as interesting.

I miss the mystery movie. There are so few of them these days. So I was disappointed that the core mystery behind “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was so easily solvable and so infinitely uninteresting. There are also many subplots that end up going nowhere or don’t amount to anything. There’s Lisbeth’s lecherous caseworker, Mikael’s ongoing trouble with his lawsuit and even a pinch of religious zealotry. None of it feels very cohesive. Even after solving the case, there are an additional 20 minutes of “Lord of the Rings”-inspired multiple endings. None of them are very important; most apparently exist to set up the inevitable sequels.

As I mentioned, I hadn’t read the books. There are moments in the film where I found myself wondering why certain things come to light and never get addressed again. Often times friends say, “Oh, they cover that in the book.” That always grinds my gears. Movies shouldn’t require “Cliff’s Notes.” When introducing it in the film, it needs to be resolved.

The most glaring faults of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” come from sins of convenience, such as shown in its uninspired casting. It’s an interesting core story even if not original. Convenient moments and discoveries push the story forward but never feel motivated. I wouldn’t mind seeing another crack at the Lisbeth character without so much padding.


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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. KC

    January 12, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Dear Anghus,

    Wow, it must be awful being you. The NYTimes Best Seller List is ‘mass-market shit’. Movies made from those books are not ‘intellectual’ enough for you. (Snooty aside: I wish someone decrying the lack of intellectualism in the mass media would understand the difference between ‘pouring’ and ‘poring’ over the details of the case.) And when you find a movie that is ‘fine, well-constructed entertainment’, it is still unsatisfying to you. It must be terribly frustrating trying to find something that meets your standards. I’m glad my standards are much lower, for I was able to enjoy this movie quite fully.

    I feel sorry that you realized right away that Stellan Skarsgård’s character did it. But I wonder — what exactly did you realize that he did? After all, his character’s father began the series of killings. Skarsgard’s character then continued the killings. But he didn’t kill the niece. I also wonder — how many times have you seen a character walk on screen and realized right away that he was the ‘bad guy’ — only to find out later that he wasn’t? In my experience, hunches sometimes prove correct, and sometimes they do not. Therefore, even when I correctly guess right away who the villain is, there is still a modicum of doubt. Which means the exercise of proving his/her guilt still often proves both interesting and satisfying. As I found to be the case in this movie.

    I also disagree with your premise that every subplot requires a neat and final resolution. For one thing, that is not generally how things work in real life. For another, subplots can serve a vital purpose without being fully resolved. To pick one instance that you mention in this film, that of ‘Lisbeth’s lecherous caseworker’. This subplot demonstrates in frightening detail Lisbeth’s steely resolve, resourcefulness, and astonishing ability to handle difficult situations. Though we never learn the caseworker’s ultimate fate, we can believe (and I choose to do so) that Lisbeth has scared him into giving up his lecherous behavior; at any rate, we wouldn’t know Lisbeth’s character half as well without this subplot.

    Movies, books, and life are full of subplots that are not ‘very important’; such subplots are a large part of what gives stories and life their texture.

    I also must take exception to your complaint about the casting. Although you may have immediately guessed that Stellan Skarsgard was the heavy, I thought his work was quite good. The same is true of both Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer. And Rooney Mara was completely mesmerizing in the title role.

    In sum, I fear you nitpicked your way to disappointment with a film that I believe was unusually well done, and which I am highly recommending to all of my fellow film lovers.

  2. KC

    January 12, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Dear Anghus,

    Wow, it must be awful being you. The NYTimes Best Seller List is ‘mass-market shit’. Movies made from those books are not ‘intellectual’ enough for you. (Snooty aside: I wish someone decrying the lack of intellectualism in the mass media would understand the difference between ‘pouring’ and ‘poring’ over the details of the case.) And when you find a movie that is ‘fine, well-constructed entertainment’, it is still unsatisfying to you. It must be terribly frustrating trying to find something that meets your standards. I’m glad my standards are much lower, for I was able to enjoy this movie quite fully.

    I feel sorry that you realized right away that Stellan Skarsgård’s character did it. But I wonder — what exactly did you realize that he did? After all, his character’s father began the series of killings. Skarsgard’s character then continued the killings. But he didn’t kill the niece. I also wonder — how many times have you seen a character walk on screen and realized right away that he was the ‘bad guy’ — only to find out later that he wasn’t? In my experience, hunches sometimes prove correct, and sometimes they do not. Therefore, even when I correctly guess right away who the villain is, there is still a modicum of doubt. Which means the exercise of proving his/her guilt still often proves both interesting and satisfying. As I found to be the case in this movie.

    I also disagree with your premise that every subplot requires a neat and final resolution. For one thing, that is not generally how things work in real life. For another, subplots can serve a vital purpose without being fully resolved. To pick one instance that you mention in this film, that of ‘Lisbeth’s lecherous caseworker’. This subplot demonstrates in frightening detail Lisbeth’s steely resolve, resourcefulness, and astonishing ability to handle difficult situations. Though we never learn the caseworker’s ultimate fate, we can believe (and I choose to do so) that Lisbeth has scared him into giving up his lecherous behavior; at any rate, we wouldn’t know Lisbeth’s character half as well without this subplot.

    Movies, books, and life are full of subplots that are not ‘very important’; such subplots are a large part of what gives stories and life their texture.

    I also must take exception to your complaint about the casting. Although you may have immediately guessed that Stellan Skarsgard was the heavy, I thought his work was quite good. The same is true of both Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer. And Rooney Mara was completely mesmerizing in the title role.

    In sum, I fear you nitpicked your way to disappointment with a film that I believe was unusually well done, and which I am highly recommending to all of my fellow film lovers.

  3. anghus

    January 13, 2012 at 2:03 am

    And now another episode of “Fan Mail Response,” by Anghus.

    “Wow, it must be awful being you.”

    –Actually, it’s quite excellent being me. I make movies, write movie reviews, screenplays, books, and comics and people actually pay me to do it. It’s rather rewarding. I shudder to think of the alternative. I could end up being one of those people who write long-winded rants online correcting people’s grammar. “(Snooty aside: I wish someone decrying the lack of intellectualism in the mass media would understand the difference between ‘pouring’ and ‘poring’ over the details of the case.)”

    Eep. I should have read ahead.

    “I’m glad my standards are much lower”

    –Me too. It makes the ivory tower that much roomier.

    “I was able to enjoy this movie quite fully.”

    –That’s unfortunate. My goal in life is to make sure no one enjoys anything at all. The fact that you enjoyed it is causing me a great deal of discomfort.

    “I feel sorry that you realized right away that Stellan Skarsgård’s character did it. But I wonder — what exactly did you realize that he did? After all, his character’s father began the series of killings. Skarsgard’s character then continued the killings. But he didn’t kill the niece.”

    –I realized he would be the guy at the end of the movie holding the gun. To my credit, I got that part right. Hooray for me.

    “I also wonder — how many times have you seen a character walk onscreen and realized right away that he was the ‘bad guy’ — only to find out later that he wasn’t?”

    –Never. I have always identified the correct killer eighteen minutes into a movie every single time. Even in movies where there is no killer. For example, I correctly identified Hector Elizondo as the killer in “Pretty Woman,” despite the fact that there were no murders in that movie. At least, not on screen. But after he helped Julia Roberts get a dress, he went back to his office and totally killed a guy. Garry Marshall verified this to me while having a drink at the Sausalito Wine Mixer in 1997.

    “In my experience, hunches sometimes prove correct, and sometimes they do not. ”

    –Careful. That’s a bold claim you’re making. Next you’ll be telling me that sometimes McDonalds serves breakfast and sometimes they don’t. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s 9:45pm and I need a McGriddle.

    Therefore, even when I correctly guess right away who the villain is, there is still a modicum of doubt. Which means the exercise of proving his/her guilt still often proves both interesting and satisfying. As I found to be the case in this movie.”
    -Damn it. There you go enjoying a movie again. Are you trying to ruin my McGriddle dinner?

    “I also disagree with your premise that every subplot requires a neat and final resolution. For one thing, that is not generally how things work in real life. For another, subplots can serve a vital purpose without being fully resolved.”

    –In the very first episode of “Happy Days” there were three kids. Richie and Jeannie had an older brother named Chuck. At the end of the first episode, Chuck walks upstairs. Over the next 10 years of shows, Chuck is never mentioned again. It’s like he didn’t exist. While it is irrelevant to so many people, there are those who wonder just what happened to Chuck.

    During the next episode of “Happy Days,” I correctly identified Pat Morita as the killer. Garry Marshall verified this for me while filming “Runaway Bride.”

    “To pick one instance that you mention in this film, that of ‘Lisbeth’s lecherous caseworker’. This subplot demonstrates in frightening detail Lisbeth’s steely resolve, resourcefulness, and astonishing ability to handle difficult situations. Though we never learn the caseworker’s ultimate fate, we can believe (and I choose to do so) that Lisbeth has scared him into giving up his lecherous behavior; at any rate, we wouldn’t know Lisbeth’s character half as well without this subplot.”

    –Yes. There was no other way to detail her resourcefulness and resolve that by having her brutally raped then having her attack and tattoo her attacker. Steig Larson must have minored in subtlety.

    “I also must take exception to your complaint about the casting. Although you may have immediately guessed that Stellan Skarsgard was the heavy, I thought his work was quite good. The same is true of both Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer. And Rooney Mara was completely mesmerizing in the title role.”

    –Obviously, I hated Rooney Mara. Hence the headline ROONEY MARA SAVES ‘DRAGON TATTOO’.

    “In sum, I fear you nitpicked your way to disappointment with a film that I believe was unusually well done, and which I am highly recommending to all of my fellow film lovers.”

    –Look, you loved the film. People can love flawed things. Ask my wife; she somehow manages to stay with me in spite of numerous personality defects. I could have spent another 1,000 words detailing the problems with “Dragon Tattoo.” It was imperfect. I liked it more than I disliked it, hence the three star review. But I think it’s a by-the-book thriller. There’s very little I didn’t see coming, and for a thriller that’s a fatal flaw.

  4. anghus

    January 13, 2012 at 2:03 am

    And now another episode of “Fan Mail Response,” by Anghus.

    “Wow, it must be awful being you.”

    –Actually, it’s quite excellent being me. I make movies, write movie reviews, screenplays, books, and comics and people actually pay me to do it. It’s rather rewarding. I shudder to think of the alternative. I could end up being one of those people who write long-winded rants online correcting people’s grammar. “(Snooty aside: I wish someone decrying the lack of intellectualism in the mass media would understand the difference between ‘pouring’ and ‘poring’ over the details of the case.)”

    Eep. I should have read ahead.

    “I’m glad my standards are much lower”

    –Me too. It makes the ivory tower that much roomier.

    “I was able to enjoy this movie quite fully.”

    –That’s unfortunate. My goal in life is to make sure no one enjoys anything at all. The fact that you enjoyed it is causing me a great deal of discomfort.

    “I feel sorry that you realized right away that Stellan Skarsgård’s character did it. But I wonder — what exactly did you realize that he did? After all, his character’s father began the series of killings. Skarsgard’s character then continued the killings. But he didn’t kill the niece.”

    –I realized he would be the guy at the end of the movie holding the gun. To my credit, I got that part right. Hooray for me.

    “I also wonder — how many times have you seen a character walk onscreen and realized right away that he was the ‘bad guy’ — only to find out later that he wasn’t?”

    –Never. I have always identified the correct killer eighteen minutes into a movie every single time. Even in movies where there is no killer. For example, I correctly identified Hector Elizondo as the killer in “Pretty Woman,” despite the fact that there were no murders in that movie. At least, not on screen. But after he helped Julia Roberts get a dress, he went back to his office and totally killed a guy. Garry Marshall verified this to me while having a drink at the Sausalito Wine Mixer in 1997.

    “In my experience, hunches sometimes prove correct, and sometimes they do not. ”

    –Careful. That’s a bold claim you’re making. Next you’ll be telling me that sometimes McDonalds serves breakfast and sometimes they don’t. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s 9:45pm and I need a McGriddle.

    Therefore, even when I correctly guess right away who the villain is, there is still a modicum of doubt. Which means the exercise of proving his/her guilt still often proves both interesting and satisfying. As I found to be the case in this movie.”
    -Damn it. There you go enjoying a movie again. Are you trying to ruin my McGriddle dinner?

    “I also disagree with your premise that every subplot requires a neat and final resolution. For one thing, that is not generally how things work in real life. For another, subplots can serve a vital purpose without being fully resolved.”

    –In the very first episode of “Happy Days” there were three kids. Richie and Jeannie had an older brother named Chuck. At the end of the first episode, Chuck walks upstairs. Over the next 10 years of shows, Chuck is never mentioned again. It’s like he didn’t exist. While it is irrelevant to so many people, there are those who wonder just what happened to Chuck.

    During the next episode of “Happy Days,” I correctly identified Pat Morita as the killer. Garry Marshall verified this for me while filming “Runaway Bride.”

    “To pick one instance that you mention in this film, that of ‘Lisbeth’s lecherous caseworker’. This subplot demonstrates in frightening detail Lisbeth’s steely resolve, resourcefulness, and astonishing ability to handle difficult situations. Though we never learn the caseworker’s ultimate fate, we can believe (and I choose to do so) that Lisbeth has scared him into giving up his lecherous behavior; at any rate, we wouldn’t know Lisbeth’s character half as well without this subplot.”

    –Yes. There was no other way to detail her resourcefulness and resolve that by having her brutally raped then having her attack and tattoo her attacker. Steig Larson must have minored in subtlety.

    “I also must take exception to your complaint about the casting. Although you may have immediately guessed that Stellan Skarsgard was the heavy, I thought his work was quite good. The same is true of both Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer. And Rooney Mara was completely mesmerizing in the title role.”

    –Obviously, I hated Rooney Mara. Hence the headline ROONEY MARA SAVES ‘DRAGON TATTOO’.

    “In sum, I fear you nitpicked your way to disappointment with a film that I believe was unusually well done, and which I am highly recommending to all of my fellow film lovers.”

    –Look, you loved the film. People can love flawed things. Ask my wife; she somehow manages to stay with me in spite of numerous personality defects. I could have spent another 1,000 words detailing the problems with “Dragon Tattoo.” It was imperfect. I liked it more than I disliked it, hence the three star review. But I think it’s a by-the-book thriller. There’s very little I didn’t see coming, and for a thriller that’s a fatal flaw.

  5. Shannon Rae Gentry

    January 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

    hehehe…I didn’t even read the review, this comment session was good enough.

    No offense to the commenter with the beef with Anghus (ha, Anghus beef) but I’m glad Anghus finds flaws in most movies, that’s what makes his reviews entertaining. Who needs someone who regularly praises movies, I like high standards, without them we would be told that things like “Green Lantern” should be taken seriously. Anghus isn’t the know-all of good and bad movies but he’s pretty damn good at conveying valid opinions in a smart and hilarious way.

    Alright, now I’m going to go read the review and move on with my life like most people.

  6. Shannon Rae Gentry

    January 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

    hehehe…I didn’t even read the review, this comment session was good enough.

    No offense to the commenter with the beef with Anghus (ha, Anghus beef) but I’m glad Anghus finds flaws in most movies, that’s what makes his reviews entertaining. Who needs someone who regularly praises movies, I like high standards, without them we would be told that things like “Green Lantern” should be taken seriously. Anghus isn’t the know-all of good and bad movies but he’s pretty damn good at conveying valid opinions in a smart and hilarious way.

    Alright, now I’m going to go read the review and move on with my life like most people.

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