The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) — A cold case goes hot

“I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”

Justin’s rating: I always liked Bob’s Burgers’ Dragon with the Girl Tattoo costume

Justin’s review: It always slightly disappoints me when a talented director slows down in his or her output. I’m sure there are many reasons for this — being more picky with projects, having more wealth, being on the outs in Hollywood — but it’s still a letdown when I want to see more from that director.

So it is with David Fincher. He’s not the most prolific of directors, and that’s a shame because I want to see more of his stuff before he retires for good. The Game, Se7en, and Fight Club made him a legend of ’90s cinema, and from 2007 to 2011 he was on a hot four-movie streak that’s since cooled off. It’s during this streak that he jumped onto the then-incredibly popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo phenomenon — both a book series and a 2009 Swedish cinematic adaptation at this point. Maybe filming another adaptation two years later was a little too soon, but nobody seemed to complain too much.

When Dragon Tattoo was all the rage, I did read through the book and watch that Swedish adaptation. Honestly? I didn’t get all the fuss. It’s a fine enough mystery that’s got an unorthodox character at the center with a crazy big tattoo. But it wasn’t cool — just cold. Cold and bitter.

Thus I came at Fincher’s version (a decade late) with a dare: Make me like this. Make me care. Fincher’s got style and skill to make stories pop, so how about this?

In Sweden, two outcasts find themselves slowly, oh so slowly, drawn together to investigate a mystery. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a disgraced journalist who’s hired to look into a very old cold case about a murdered girl, while Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an antisocial hacker whose past screams “troubled” in neon lights, joins Blomkvist as his assistant.

The core mystery takes place on an island owned by a wealthy business family. Forty years prior, one of the family’s grandchildren up and disappeared at the same time as the island was isolated due to an accident. Just prior to that, she seemed to be troubled and concerned about someone — presumably, one of the other family members.

So what we have here is your classic locked room mystery, where we have a murder without a body and a crime without a way to easily conceal it. As Lisbeth and Mikael investigate, both using their considerable talents, they discover that the missing girl is somehow tied to a number of other, very gruesome deaths. A serial killer is on the prowl, probably on the same island that the two investigators are staying.

In more than one way, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo feels like a spiritual successor to Se7en. I’m not just speaking of the serial killer and the briefly glimpsed bodies — although that’s part of it — but also the dark tone, sense of dread, and score by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Both films also feature two strangers forging a partnership as they investigate their first case.

But weird as it is to say, Dragon Tattoo lacks the heart of Se7en. It just does. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman had great chemistry and injected moments of much-needed levity, whereas here, Craig and Mara seem distant toward each other even when they have weirdly unnecessary sex.

And that’s the real problem, isn’t it? If I don’t really buy into the relationship between the two principles — nevermind a romantic relationship, a working relationship with characters we care about — then there’s no heart here. There’s a mystery, sure, and a few twists and turns, but it’s all drenched in cold darkness without any hope of relief.

I guess that answers my question, then. While technically competent in many ways, this version didn’t win me over to the story. Guess it’s time to put this to rest and move on.

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