345-Word Reviews: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I haven’t seen the Swedish adaptations, nor read the Stieg Larsson books on which they are based, which either makes me hopelessly unqualified to comment on this piece of the franchise, or a blank slate for judging this film on its own terms. All I can say is that I once overheard sections of the audiobook, and it seemed to involve mostly people emailing each other (here’s a full plot synopsis if you need it). After The Social Network, I wondered if David Fincher was going to go one step further and make a whole film about electronic communication. Not quite.

In his cycle of serial-killer films, of which this is the third entry after Seven and Zodiac, Fincher loves filming texts, books, photographs, writing, sometimes writing on the body: what is Seven if not a series of statements written in the flesh of murder victims and left behind for detectives to ‘read’? In this film, Lisbeth Salander inscribes her own body with tattoos that memorialise her experiences, and joins investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, signalling that he’s in thoughtful mode by putting on spectacles, pudging up a bit, and getting the crap kicked out of him) on the cold trail of a misogynistic serial murderer whose victims are similarly posed as moralistic messages written in the form of punished bodies.

Together, they follow a network of clues found in photographs, archived documents, hacked emails, court records, more photographs. As usual, Fincher applies his trademark brand of meticulous control to the composition and the colour of every frame,   using visual effects to fine-tune his environments to his exact specifications.

This can have the effect of making even simple dialogue scenes needlessly fussed-over, but it also adds a bristling coldness that matches this subject matter effectively. It certainly underscores Fincher’s sense of a legible, ordered world, filled with nested narrative secrets, that exists as a navigable labyrinth of textual clues (which even extended to the viral marketing campaign), everything in its place for those with the spectatorial focus sharp enough to see it.

7 thoughts on “345-Word Reviews: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

    • I can’t comment on their relative quality, but this version certainly looks great, i.e. expensive. It’s just a little bit incomplete without the sequels ready to go – it ends on an abrupt down-note that is meant to set up another episode, but we don’t know if Fincher will stay in charge of the next two.

      • I have seen the Swedish version and I much prefer this one. It’s just less violent and feels more sophisticated. I wish D Fincher works on the other two films.

    • It’s pretty tough, and the tone of the whole thing is rather grim, but it’s not especially graphic. If you managed Seven and Zodiac (which features one of the most upsetting murder scenes I’ve ever seen), you can cope with this. But I understand why people might not want to wallow in this stuff.

  1. The swedish ones are really quite compelling. Well worth seeing. I avoided them for ages (being a sucker for rubbish) but when I’d seen everything else from the video store I thought I’d give one a go. And I was pleasantly surprised. The american one, while looking great, is not nearly as interesting. In fact I can barely remember anything from it now – well – other than Daniel Craig’s lips which always seem to be sewed together.

  2. Violence — of many kinds — is inherent in the story. It’s hard to escape in either film’s case, whether overt or implied, and is a kind of main character. Both films have strong merits, and the respective differences in the treatments of this character would be a fruitful line of inquiry and value-added.

    The books are good, bytheway (the English translations). Should there be any doubt about it, since they’ve produced such rich cinematic offspring?

    I so much appreciate, Dan, your insight about Fincher’s development of this notion nested texts.

    I felt her hacker-fu was represented believably in the books and both movies — without undue overemphasis. As many people are snowed about the role of computers in the story as are confused about role of computers in our lives now. Plainly, Lispeth is a super-hero who is reads minds. That’s it!

    I think it’s a huge thing that Larsson has spotlighted the quotidian violence against women and children in this particular and interesting way. Bound to be having ripple-effects in culture.

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