Blu-ray Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

STUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: David Fincher | CAST: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Steven Berkoff, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 3/20/2011 | PRICE: Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo $40.99, DVD $30.99
BONUSES: commentary, “Vanger Archives” containing featurettes, interviews, stills, more
SPECS: R | 158 min. | Crime  mystery thriller | 2.40:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew and Hindi subtitles|

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

David Fincher’s film adaptation of late Swedish novelist Steig Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo finds the director in initially familiar waters — an investigative thriller-procedural movie involving the pursuit of a serial killer. But unlike Fincher’s Se7en (1995), an original screenplay, or Zodiac (2007), which was based on a 1986 non-fiction book, Dragon Tattoo’s source is an international bestseller that has sold some 40 million copies around the world.

That said, the question for many wasn’t “What’s Fincher’s new movie all about?” but more “How will Fincher approach this one?” That a 2009 Swedish movie version was seen by many and well-received took even more mystery away from the possibilities.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

But Fincher is an ace, a visually driven storyteller and unique stylist, and his latest film is an engrossing and well-crafted rendering of a wildly popular mystery novel. And it features one of the strongest fictional female protagonists to emerge in years: Stockholm’s darkly appealing, punked-out, computer-hacking Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, The Social Network), a 20-ish anti-social anti-heroine whose anger at the world is matched only by her hatred of men who abuse women. Isn’t it fortuitous, then, that her expert hacking skills and investigative prowess are tapped by recently disgraced journalist/publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, Dream House), who’s been hired by wealthy Swedish industrialist Henrik Wanger (Christopher Plummer, Beginners) to unravel the truth behind the disappearance and possible murder of his grand-niece some 36 years earlier?

Dragon Tattoo’s mystery is complicated, intense and ugly — the nasty history of the Wanger family immediately calls to mind Evelyn Mulray’s brood in Chinatown — and it’s not for all tastes. But the mechanics of Blomkvist and Salander’s probe — using computers, old photographs, archival records, police reports, newspaper clips, maps — make for a fascinating procedural movie, which Fincher expertly constructs, his investigators slowly peeling back the layers of a decades-old mystery. As the filmmaker has shown us before, he knows how to inject viewers into an investigation of deeds most foul. And his vision of Sweden — its capital city, its wintry, wooded northern lands and its deceptively easy-going people — is assured and straight-forward even as it masks a whole lot of menace.

Though they’re surrounded by talented support — Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard (A Somewhat Gentle Man) as Wanger’s eldest son, Robin Wright (The Conspirator) as Blomkvist’s co-publisher and sometimes lover and Yorick van Wageningen (Winter in Wartime) as Lisbeth’s sadistic legal guardian — it’s really all about Mara (who’s excellent) and Craig (also fine in a far less attention-grabbing role). Their characters don’t come together until the film’s midway point, when Blomkvist meets Salander and asks her to “help me catch a killer of women.” The two then engage in a professional and increasingly personal relationship for the rest of the movie, the latter not really playing as well as the former. But that’s okay since the mystery, adapted with appropriate economic and cinematic clarity by top screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Moneyball), at the heart of the movie is the real juice here.

Like the high-definition editions of most of Fincher’s catalog, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo boasts outstanding video and audio quality. The film’s overall look is a muted one, colored with slate grays, muted greens and pale auburns. (Even the snow looks kind of washed out.)  It’s an appropriately chilly-looking backdrop, the kind that really feels like it could cover up a mystery for decades. The audio track is similarly studied and effective, serving up the dialog with crisp efficiency, the chatter emerging from a sea of scene-specific sound effects that include rainfall, winter winds and the frequent tap-tap-tapping of a computer keyboard.

The Blu-ray edition of Dragon Tattoo contains hours of bonus materials, most of them housed on their own disc (with the primary exception being Fincher’s commentary track which, like his previous ones, is both engaging and illuminating). Separated into four sections or “files” — Characters, On Location, Post Production, and Promotion — disc two’s collection of interviews, featurettes, behind-the-scenes footage, scene breakdowns, montages and galleries covers virtually every aspect of the film production, from Blur Studios’ creation of the nightmarish opening credit sequence (set to a cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”) up through the various designs for the film’s promotional campaign.

Of particular note among the extras are Rooney’s memories of her nearly year-long road to being cast, a story that finds her dropping F-bombs a’plenty, and a featurette about shooting the film on Stockholm’s streets and in its subways.

Also memorable are Fincher’s comments on why he was attracted to the material and his ideas on what made Larsson’s book so popular.

“I think people are perverts,” he says. “I’ve maintained that. That’s the foundation of my career.”


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.