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‘Dragon Tattoo’ film draws mystery, thrills out of best-selling novel

By Julian De Ocampo ’13

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara
8.5 out of 10

Let’s get one thing out of the way: David Fincher’s movie adaptation of the international best-seller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is just as cool as the trailers made them out to be.

It does feature the prerequisite leather jackets, motorcycle chases and explosions needed to make a fortune in the movie industry these days.

But I was initially surprised to see that Columbia Pictures was so quick to give the movie the tagline “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas” simply because the source material is itself relatively cerebral and wordy.

The novel, a murder mystery centering on the disappearance of a manufacturing magnate’s niece, suffered from a glut of informative tangents likely stemming from author Stieg Larsson’s background as a financial reporter.

Moreover, while the core plot was enthralling, the novel featured a number of subplots that often meandered and bloated the book to an obscene size. It made the novel, which is already mostly a mixture of dialogues and characters poring over documents, seem bloated and tedious.

It is perhaps a testament to Fincher’s movie making skills that he was able to turn the labyrinth of characters and subplots into a movie far more thrilling than expected.

In “Dragon Tattoo,” Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist recently convicted of libel who receives an invitation to solve a decades-old murder. He is joined by Lisbeth Sander (Rooney Mara), a cyberpunk hacker who joins Blomkvist as the increasingly disturbing mystery unravels.

When it comes to Fincher’s adaptation, the key word is amplification.

Fincher is able to amplify the best qualities of both the source material and the 2009 Swedish film adaptation that preceded him.

And while the amount of material and “inspiration” that Fincher filched from his Swedish counterparts is questionable, there’s no denying the Hollywood blockbuster Fincher produced is exactly that: a big-budget blowout.

Fincher deftly molds the film into a fast-paced, stomach-churning thriller, replete with more tension and suspense then the novel or original film ever had.

69th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California
69th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California

“Dragon Tattoo” can be chalked up as yet another sleek and stunning movie for a director who has already mastered the art of novel-to-movie adaptations. And while it’s not quite “The Social Network” or “Fight Club,” it’s still a wild romp through the Swedish countryside and the minds of a few sick and twisted men.

This movie, perhaps more than any other, shows the power of a Hollywood-sized budget. When stacked against the original Swedish film, everything is just slightly better.

The writing is a little punchier, the actors are similar but slightly more glamorous looking and the explosions are just a little more, well, explosive.

Everything is sleek and professional (this is a Fincher movie, after all), and, as violent and sadistic as some of the scenes are, the film’s dark and seedy atmosphere ends up being one of its strongest assets.

Rooney Mara steals the show as the girl of the film’s title. As Lisbeth Sander, Mara creates one of the most intriguing characters in any film this year – a pale and petite hacker with vengeance in her heart.

Mara brings Lisbeth off the pages and into real life in a way that is faithful to the novel while also enhancing her character traits.

Craig performs well as Blomkvist, but, despite being the main character, he rarely gets the chance to shine either due to the lack of interesting scenes with his character, or simply because Mara steals so many scenes from him.

The film’s crutch ends up being the faithfulness to which it adheres to the novel. Even with Fincher’s skillful redacting and enhancing, he still falls victim to the novel’s awkward pacing.

The last quarter of the movie is when things begin to falter and the thrill begins to wear off. It is then that action and mystery begin to subside and the viewer is instead left to finish up a relatively benign and superficial subplot about corporate drama. Yawn.

But despite a few nearly-unavoidable shortcomings, Fincher has managed to create a film that will please nearly everyone in its targeted audience: fans of the book, fans of the Swedish original and people who still don’t have a clue what this “dragon tattoo” thing is all about anyways.

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