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'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' Review: Thrilling Even When Characters are Just Thinking

December 20, 2011

Chris Hewitt

The stellar, English-language take on "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" burrows so deeply into the heads of its characters that even when they're just thinking, it's deeply thrilling.

Two examples: Daniel Craig's Mikael Blomqvist, investigating the 40-year-old disappearance of a girl named Harriet, has assembled a bunch of photographs of Harriet attending a parade on the last day she was seen. In one shot, she appears to see something disturbing that may be related to her vanishing act. Then, late in the film, Craig acquires a photo taken from behind Harriet at that same parade and we think, just as he's thinking, "Holy smokes! That photo probably shows the disturbing thing she saw!"

And this: Mikael and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an antisocial young woman with mad computing skills, are looking at two separate groupings of photographs and, as their eyes trail from one photo to another to another, director David Fincher makes it feel like we're in their super-smart heads as they follow a trail of clues to the solution. Better yet: It's as if, just for a second, we're as super-smart as they are.

By now, if you haven't read the Swedish thriller, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," you have sat next to somebody on a plane or bus who was reading it. Stieg Larsson's thriller -- in which a wealthy industrialist (Christopher Plummer, enormously moving in his small role) hires Mikael and Lisbeth to find out which member of his family killed his long-missing granddaughter

- was previously made into a spotty Swedish film, but the American version is superior in almost every way.

Fincher brings his classical moviemaking skills and his way with suspense (having made "Seven" and "Zodiac," the man knows serial killers) to the proceedings, which are complex but lucid, stylish but not showy and long (nearly three hours) but so swiftly-paced that you don't notice the length. Even the tired old device of a killer who blathers on about why he or she did everything he or she did is mesmerizing because the performer is so gifted and because Fincher assembles the scene like a puzzle that is gradually coming together. (He also offers a sick joke similar to the use of "Singin' in the Rain" in "A Clockwork Orange": Fincher's brutal climax is accompanied by Enya's schmaltzy wisp o' a song, "Orinoco Flow.")

The American version is better cast than the Swedish one, with nifty roles for Joely Richardson, Geraldine James and Stellan Skarsgaard. Its script is both funnier and more interested in what motivates the mysterious Lisbeth Salander (that interest leads to a slightly altered ending that shouldn't miff readers too much). But if there's one thing that is not quite as good as the Swedish version, it's Mara's Lisbeth. I liked Mara's softer take but it's hard to get Noomi Rapace's fierce, animalistic Lisbeth out of your mind.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" isn't easy to shake, either. Fincher shows that the mystery of what happened to Harriet is connected to the recent history of Sweden, which Harriet's family helped create, and to a tradition of misogyny (Larsson's book, the first in a trilogy, was originally called "Men Who Hate Women"). And the film's altered final scenes make it clear that the hating has just begun.

Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552. Follow him at


Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgaard, Joely Richardson

Rated: R, for graphic violence and nudity, as well as strong language

Should you go? Yes. Not only is it better than the previous movie; it's also better than the book. ***{

Source: (c) 2011 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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