By R. David

Published December 19, 2011

Based on the wildly popular Stieg Larsson novel (who died in 2004, long before this series of books found its cult fanbase), director David Fincher’s take on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – like the Sweedish film adaptation before it – is fundamentally a story well told and a solid mystery.

But let’s be real here Millenniphilies (I’m not sure that’s “Twihard”-like moniker devotees of this series have settled on, but if you’re all looking for something, there you go!), there is nothing all that special or original about this tale; nothing that truly sets it apart from countless other murder mystery novels or films.  However, just as readers may be responding more to Larsson’s particular way with words than they otherwise would any run-of-the-mill author, it is David Fincher’s fluid style that sets his film apart from the average Movie of the Week, who-done-it thrillers.  Solid performances certainly help, though I would argue despite Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara inhabiting the major roles about as well as any fan could have hoped for, their characters still feel under-developed and come off more like “types” than fully realized people.  Their motivations are clear, as are their respective backstories, but the script gives them little to do but go through the motions.  There is a strikingly impersonal feel to this film which is ironic because one of the things the story is known for being – and one of the things the movie has promoted itself as – is an unflinching, in-your-face thriller.  Alas, its all very workman like and by the numbers.  Including the way the plot develops and plays out.

The film is essentially two different movies until the midpoint:  The first involves Craig’s disgraced  journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who is hired by powerful industrialist Hennrik Vanger (Christopher Plumber) to investigate the disappearance of his beloved niece some 40 years ago (why he’s waited so long to hire someone is never explained).  The parallel story is that of Mara’s Lisbeth Salander (the titular character), a juvenile delinquent and ward of the state who works as surveillance expert for a high tech security firm.  While Blomkvist struggles through his investigation, which is impeded at every turn by the eccentric Vanger clan, Salander struggles with her sexually abusive probation officer.  It isn’t until Blomkvist hires Salander as his assistant that the film truly begins to take shape and focus.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has a great sense of style and tone, which is generally true of Fincher’s work.  But it is also longish, strangely understated overall and fails to distinguish itself from similar genre fare, save for a few stellar scenes that truly crackle with suspense and terror.  Fincher obviously revels in tackling dark material, and the film snaps to life whenever it gets to the more vicious aspects of the novel.  In fact, the entire final third of the film – with Blomkvist and Salander joining forces and the reveal of the main villain – more or less earns the film a recommendation by itself.  But while Craig and Mara have chemistry, the characters themselves are never explored as much as they should be; and as for the rest of the film,  its well done given the source material, but the central mystery – 40 years removed from the events – lacks any sense of urgency.  And a miscalculated epilog (different from the book) ends the film on a disappointing note.

Still, Craig and Mara are good, the film has a terrific look and score, and while it may go through the motions more than I would have liked or expected, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” does so as well as any film of its type.  Its just a shame the majority of the film doesn’t have the spark and energy of its best moments.

2 and a half stars out of 4.