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If I was an executive at Sony and MGM, David Fincher is the first director I would approach to make an American adaptation of Stieg Larsson's incredible 2004 novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With master pieces like Se7en, Fight Club and The Social Network under his belt, Fincher has quickly proven to be among the best directors working right now. Fincher's 2011 adaptation of Larsson's book follows the book as well as any film can, squeezing a book that looks more like a brick into a two-and-a-half-hour run-time. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian and Fincher take some liberties with the plot, taking out subplots and changing elements of the ending, but ultimately, the film works.
If you read Dragon Tattoo, you know it is impossible to put down. The pages just keep turning as the stories of hacker-investigator Lisbeth Salander, journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the twisted Vanger family come together. Salander is a mentally-damaged young girl, her body littered with tattoos and the clothes to match. The character is filled with contradictions. She seeks vengeance against men who hurt women, yet has no boundaries during investigations. Meanwhile, Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist, having been found guilty of libel. He believes that he is too intelligent to get wrapped up in the crazy case of Harriet Vanger, who has been gone for 40 years, yet that is exactly what he does.
Larsson takes his time to guide us through these twists and turns (the paperback is over 640 pages), but this story is so engrossing that it feels like it moves at breakneck speed. Fincher and Zaillian picked up on this trait, cutting material from Larsson's book that would have only slowed down a film. They cut subplots and condensed the ending, getting rid of pieces that did not interest Fincher. The director is clearly more invested in Salander and Blomkvist's investigation, which, in Fincher's hands, is handled perfectly.
One problem that stuck with me though is that Fincher chose not to convey just how much hatred Salander has for Harriet by the end of the story. Salander despises the “men who hate women,” made clear by the rape and revenge scenes. But Fincher doesn't seem to be able to make it clear why this hatred leads to a sudden despising of “Harriet f***ing Vanger.” If you didn't read the book, this phrase might seem like Salander is just happy the case is over, but Larsson wanted it to mean much more than that.
Fincher's films are filled with strong performances and Dragon Tattoo is no different. You simply can't say enough about how amazing Rooney Mara is as Salander. The performance is one-of-a-kind and I still can't believe that she is the same actress who broke up with Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network...but that's acting, isn't it? She even manages to best Noomi Rapace, who played Salander in the Swedish films. Daniel Craig plays Blomkvist exactly as one would picture that character to act. His rugged look fits the weary, worn-out journalist. These two actors have fantastic chemistry, despite the fact that their characters are so different. That is what made the book so good and Craig and Mara were able to get that aspect down.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is signature Fincher at every moment. While it isn't going to replace Fight Club and Se7en's positions as Fincher's best films, it certainly isn't as bad as the surprisingly average The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fincher's film came out just two years after the Swedish original, but his is such a different interpretation that it will be exciting to see how he handles the last two parts of Larsson's Millennium Trilogy.