In 2009, riding the tidal wave of success of the Millennium series, penned by the late Stieg Larsson, a film adaptation of the novels came out and the filmed version of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was born.  It was with great anticipation that the book lovers watched their beloved Lisbeth Salander emerge into focus… this enigmatic creature who enraptured readers with every page, was suddenly upon us in full regalia:  Mohawk, piercing, dangerous eyes, and an icy, pale face as cold as the climate around her.  Noomi Rapace, who played Lisbeth in the original films, was a dead ringer for the beloved character – she was waif thin, but brutal, forceful, and someone to be reckoned with.  While the Swedish films were successful, the series played out more like a serial than a film.  They lacked intensity, and were simply dogmatic repetitions of the novels without improvisation, or artistic liberty.  Thus, despite the release of all three novels turned films, the announcement that David Fincher was to helm the first of the series in an American remake left many to wonder what was left to make.

Fincher, coming off of his thought-to-be Opus Social Network, which garnered him an Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture, was going to elevate the series to its rightful place as this holiday season’s dark horse for filmgoers.  So it was with much curiosity that I settled into the 2 hours and 40 minutes worth of running time it was going to take to re-tell the story of Mikeal Blomkvist, Harriet Vanger, and Lisbeth Salander, who is the girl with the dragon tattoo.

The film tells the story of Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist who has come under scrutiny and litigation for printing a story that couldn’t be proven.  Left vulnerable, and all but unemployed, he is hired by an aging millionaire and ex-tycoon, Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate a family mystery of the death of Harriet Vanger forty years previously.  In the midst of his quest, Blomkvist is led to Lisbeth, a brilliant but emotionally withdrawn woman who is a mystery all her own.  Together, they unravel the twisted roots of the Vanger family tree and, at the same time, entangle their lives with one another.

In all, the film was a very graceful re-imagining of the story:  it has the makings of a murder mystery, a thriller, and a sort of love story all in one.  The liberties that Fincher takes are mostly in the atmosphere, supported by an incredible score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  The story is the same as was told in the previous films, but the gentle care that Fincher takes in each sound and color and tempo of a scene elevate the mood and intensity.  In the final sequence of the climax, Fincher uses the Foley of the scene to direct the action in almost a Hitchcock-esque way.  It is brilliantly executed, and works to transform a simple moment into utter intensity.

Many have criticized the books for being a little too long-winded in their lead up to the meat of the story.  Fincher wastes no time in cutting through the circumstances of the storyline, helped tremendously by a very streamlined script by Steven Zaillian.  This is an epic story to tell given the length of the novel and the history/material it covers, and Fincher slices and dices his way through the dizzying family tree, economic circumstances, trials, tribulations, of the story.  It is a whirlwind of names and faces and facts, until you meet Lisbeth.

When Rooney Mara was announced as the chosen lead for this film, the choice was met with quite a bit of criticism as well.  After all, Lisbeth Salander was a cherished, one-of-a-kind character, and Noomi Rapace had already done the role (and done it superbly) in the Swedish films.  For Fincher to select Mara, he was taking a risk, and that was a risk that unfortunately did not pay off, in my opinion.  Mara lacks the same intensity and sex appeal of Rapace.  She is not believable – from her mousy demeanor, to her weak frame, to her inability to properly smoke a cigarette.  All of these missteps strip away the power of her character, and Lisbeth Salander is all about power.

On the other hand, despite not being able to master the Swedish accent, Daniel Craig made a superb Mikeal Blomkvist.  He was incredibly charming and a believable womanizer, while still managing to capture the sensitivity and empathy that makes Mikeal so endearing to the woman in his life.  He is wonderful to watch, and does a great job balancing Mara’s weakness in her role.

Overall, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is not Fincher’s finest work, but a sort of collage of his previous masterpieces. Similar to Seven, it has all of the intricate intensity of study – the repetitions of images over and over, each time drawing in your connection to them, linking you to the investigator. As well, those intricacies are applied, as they were in Seven, to the intricate details of the traumas in the film.  He doesn’t shy away from the victimization here, and it gets very up close and personal, even to the strong-stomached audience members.

On the other hand, Dragon Tattoo is very similar to The Social Network in that it deals with a subject with very little action. Most of the film showcases research, yet the accelerated pacing of the storytelling often glares over the point that what you are essentially watching for 2 hours and 40 minutes is three locations, two different MAC laptops, and a lot of cigarette smoke.  Instead of the snarky Aaron Sorkin dialogue to keep you locked in, Fincher uses filmic techniques:  Mood, tempo, score, and cinematography, to build the story around your senses.  I think Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a wonderful example of Fincher as a filmmaker, and a very talented one at that, much more so than a career-launcher for Rooney Mara.  She is NOT the showcase in this film, but it is the specific and gentle direction of David Fincher that makes this something to experience.