Weekend Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

This seems, I recognize a little off-genre for our site. However, the breakout hit among the season’s non-Family offerings (and this is seriously not a film for young’uns) is a thriller with moments of horror and an an alienated hacker hero who scrapes the border of SF.

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by David Fincher
Written by Steven Zallian from
the novel by Stieg Larsson.

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist
Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger
Stellan Skarsgård as Martin Vanger
Steven Berkoff as Frode
Robin Wright as Erika Berger
Yorick van Wageningen as Bjurman
Joely Richardson as Anita Vanger
Geraldine James as Cecilia
Goran Visnjic as Armansky
Donald Sumpter as Detective Morell
Bengt C.W. Carlsson as Palmgren
Tony Way as Plague
Per Myrberg as Harald
Eva Fritjofson as Anna
Moa Garpendal as Harriet
Maya Hansson-Bergqvist as Young Anna
Sarah Appelberg as Young Cecilia
Julian Sands as Young Henrik
Anna Björk as Young Isabella
Gustaf Hammarsten as Young Harald
Simon Reithner as Young Martin
Marcus Johansson as Young Nilsson
Mathilda von Essen as Young Anita
Mathias Palmér as Young Birger
Martin Jarvis as Birger
Inga Landgré as Isabella
Anders Berg as Young Frode
Mats Andersson as Nilsson
Jürgen Klein as Gottfried

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.


After suffering a significant personal and professional loss, a journalist finds himself hired by an aging billionaire to investigate an unsolved, decades-old family mystery. Henrik Vangar would like to see the mystery resolved before he dies; others are less happy with the roiling of old matters.

Meanwhile, an alienated technopunk/hacker with a mysterious and disturbing past attempts to gain control of her life—and finds herself entangled with the same mystery.

Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.

The novel and its sequels have previously been adapted for film in Sweden.

High Points:

People will debate endlessly about whether this remake is necessary, and whether or not it improves upon the Swedish adaptation, successful nearly everywhere except the English-speaking world. View the film on its own merits: Fincher has taken the source material and crafted a suspenseful thriller with great, dark cinematography and strong performances, and it avoids the excessive dumbing-down often associated with Hollywood adaptations.

Low Points:

When we reach the point where the conventional thriller would conclude or set up the sequel, we get a second, mini-movie that resolves a plot thread. After a long and harrowing journey, this may not sit well with some viewers.

The reality of a good and generally faithful adaptation of a novel is that it will contain many elements better served by a novel, such as the extra, complex aspects of plot and the sizable cast of characters.

And then there’s the matter of rape and violence, when the film depicts what the source often suggests….

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 They’ve adapated a novel that has already been a successful film and, though story and film been well-crafted, it features a number of expected tropes and clichés of the thriller genre. In addition to the expected cuts and tweaks, the film makes a minor change to the ending.

Several critics consider it original merely because its central hero is a female from a background unusual in the genre. Their reaction recalls how some critics crowed over the twist ending to My Best Friend’s Wedding, simply because the leads did not end up together. I’’s a measure of how few risks mainstream Hollywood takes, and how conventional many critics’ tastes run.

Effects: 5/6 The effects are of the conventional sort, filmcraft largely invisible to the viewer.

Story: 5/6. We have the expected tangled story that brings our two protagonists together, and drives them to uncover uncomfortable truths. Larsson’s Swedist title for the novel is Män som hatar kvinnor, “Men Who Hate Women.” It doesn’t engage the way the English title does, but it’s apt. Thrillers require extreme events to drive their plots, but this story features an awful lot of severely dysfunctional, criminally misogynistic men in close proximity, begging questions of plausibility, or at least, worries for the Swedish tourist board.

Acting: 6/6 The film features several excellent depictions of characters with greater complexity than found in more conventional Hollywood thrillers.

Production: 6/6 The film has top-level production in service of its story and environments.

Emotional Response: 5/6 The film is at turns riveting, engaging, and disturbing, and my attention only flagged during the lengthy conclusion.

Warning: The film features violence, nudity, sex, and torture.

Overall: 5/6.

In total, The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo receives 34/42.

Lingering Questions

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been heralded for its feminist heroine (and even criticized in some circles as feminist and Marxist propaganda), and condemned by others for being a faux feminist male fantasy, bordering on or participating in the misogyny it purports to condemn. Lisbeth Salander has been called both a new feminist icon and a retro-90s nerd pin-up girl.

Where (if anywhere) do you stand?

3 replies on “Weekend Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)”

  1. What I want to know is how faithful is the movie to the book?

    And how faithful to the books were the original movies?

    • In this movie, Blomkvist never went to jail, and he has no past connection to the Vanger family. A number of incidental details (how Lisbeth loses the laptop, for example) change. We see less of Lisbeth’s social life, such as it is. We have fewer members of the family put forward as possible suspects. Martin’s death happens somewhat differently. The investigation and ending overall have been tightened.

      By Hollywood standards, then, very faithful. Many people argue that, Godfather-like, the film improves upon the source.

  2. I have watched the original Swedish movie, with English subtitles because I don’t speak Swedish and I find dubbed translations to be annoying to watch. (With subtitles, you can pick up on the original tone of voice, etc., which is quite valuable.) I have not, however, read the novels.

    The Swedish version has a lot more about precisely how Lisbeth obtains information and generally does what she does and there was a lot more plodding detective work by Blomkvist. This is interesting from an academic stand point but is somewhat boring if you’re not into that sort of thing. The Hollywood version dispenses with much of that, but does not do so in a way that makes the audience wonder about how the detectives solve the mystery. I think this is the biggest reason that the Swedish version has not done particularly well in the English speaking world. We’re easily bored.

    The Hollywood version also struck me as much more explicit, to the point of making me uncomfortable at points in a way that the Swedish version did not. In all, I think the Hollywood version was a more visceral experience.

    All that said, which version is better is a matter of taste. Personally, I like the Hollywood version better but I thoroughly enjoyed the Swedish version too.

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