There are only two reasons why people like this movie: David Fincher and Rooney Mara. Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s world-wide best seller was met with audience, critical, and box-office success. But nearly all the praise has been for Fincher’s style (cinematography/score) and Mara’s Oscar nominated performance. Everything else, even the writing, is overshadowed.
Come awards season neither the Oscars, Golden Globes, or BAFTA nominated this movie for Picture, Director, or Adapted Screenplay. Why so much praise but so little recognition? Simple: this movie is mostly style over substance.
The Plot in a Nutshell (spoilers!)
Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a disgraced journalist, is hired by retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to find his missing niece of 40 years. He teams up with an abused and vicious computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) and discovers a ritualistic murder spree of Jewish girls that spans decades. Henrik’s deceased brother Gottfrield and his nephew, Martin (Stellan Skarsgard), are revealed to be the murderers. After Martin is killed, Mikael and Lisbeth find the niece alive and reunite her with Henrik. Mikael returns to journalism as Lisbeth pursues her own journey.
Daniel Craig is a fine actor but he is the weakest link. Not because of his performance but because of his character. His scenes are quick, emotionless, and exist only for exposition. Since his libel suit never affects the plot and with no personal stake in solving the case, Mikael has no purpose and drags the story. Mikael is only a surrogate for Stierg Larsson, who was a journalist himself.
We’re here to see Lisbeth. Her scenes are brutal and burn slowly. We watch her suffer and triumph; we root for her. We’re intrigued by her mysterious behavior and shady past. Who is this GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO?
Mikael’s scenes only interrupt hers, particularly the rape scenes in which we cut from Lisbeth’s torture to Mikael idly sitting on a couch. It kills the suspense.
Cut Mikael completely from the movie. Have Henrik hire Lisbeth because of her computer skills and long history with his company. With her juvenile records sealed neither we, the audience, nor Henrik’s team would know her past, therefor creating more intrigue into her character. After Henrik tells Lisbeth the job, she would initially refuse due to her own personal reasons.
After Lisbeth’s guardian abuses her and she gets her revenge on him, she takes Henrik’s job as a personal vendetta. Now she has a personal stake in solving the case. As she discovers the murder mystery she slowly reveals her own checkered past. This case is a metaphor for her to solve her own struggles. It’s not just to find a missing girl or a killer, it’s about protecting all innocent women from abusive men.
Imagine Martin typing up Lisbeth like he’s done to all of his victims. We would cringe at the thought of this poor girl going through this again, having been tortured previously by her guardian. Yet we know she can fight. It would be incredibly suspenseful to watch her escape from another abusive man, then kill him by his own method; the ultimate revenge.
When Lisbeth brings Harriet back to Henrik, she would criticize Harriet for not stopping her brother and father; blaming her for the other girls’ deaths. This would leave the audience with a moral dilemma: is it understandable why Harriet ran away? Should she have told someone? Is Lisbeth right?
All in all, the story is much more emotionally engaging. The protagonist isn’t a dry, introverted journalist. The protagonist is a brilliant, determined, eccentric, unapologetic computer hacker with a void to fill; the main reason we all remember the novel and movie. With Fincher’s impeccable style and Mara’s riveting performance the movie is risen to a whole new level of personal struggle and triumph instead of just being an investigation.
Thank you all for reading and I look forward to re-imaging another movie with you next week.