The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – review

David Fincher directs Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in an icebox-fresh take on this familiar thriller

David Fincher turns the film noir white with this steely, stealthy adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Taking the thriller genre's staple ingredients of murder, sexual sadism and familial corruption, he casts them into the cold, throwing the action across a remote private island, where big pale houses sit against a big pale sky. Outside the snow is flying and the river has frozen. Inside, behind closed doors, it's positively arctic.

Daniel Craig gives a spry, winning performance as Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced Stockholm journalist who accepts a commission from wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who lives far to the north amid a smattering of brothers and sisters he can hardly bear to speak to. Nominally, Vanger wants Blomkvist to research his memoirs, though what he's really after (or what he says he's after) is the identity of whoever abducted his teenage niece more than 40 years before. "You will be investigating the most detestable people you are ever likely to meet," Vanger announces with relish. "My family."

The film's arrival is the latest instalment in the curious afterlife of the author, Stieg Larsson, who died from a heart attack in 2004. Since then, his posthumously published novel – the first part of his Millennium Trilogy – has sold upwards of 30m copies, as well as spawning a successful Swedish-language film version in 2009.

No doubt many viewers will now be familiar with the yarn's constant twists and turns. Happily, it barely matters: Fincher's expert handling makes this feel as though it's been lifted fresh from the icebox – assuming "fresh" is the right term for a film so steeped in the murk of human cruelty, and so excitedly disgusted by its subject-matter.

Blomkvist's investigation eventually brings him into contact with Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a turbulent computer hacker and ward of the state, brutalised by the authorities and burning with rage. Salander trusts nobody, possibly not even herself. When Blomkvist tells her, "I want you to help me catch a killer of women," it's the first time she manages to look up and meet his gaze.

If only more high-concept Hollywood thrillers were as supple, muscular and purely gripping. In less experienced hands, this would surely have wound up as lurid, trashy pulp. Yet Fincher plays it straight and keeps it serious. He brings a sense of space and rough edges to a machine-tooled plotline that bounces us remorselessly from clue to clue.

He makes us care about Blomkvist and Salander as they rattle over the island and through the corridors. The route leads them past Nazi skeletons in the closet and arcane references to the Old Testament – all the way down the steps to the basement. Sooner or later, films like this one always wind up underground, in the basement. It's where the secrets are buried, the lights are turned on and the tale turns infernal.

• This article was amended on 23 December 2011. The credit list in the above box included people who worked on the Swedish adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This has been corrected.


Xan Brooks

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – review

Newcomer Rooney Mara makes a superb Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's faithful remake of the gritty Swedish crime thriller, writes Philip French

Philip French

01, Jan, 2012 @12:05 AM

Article image
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – review

David Fincher has given Stieg Larsson the Hollywood treatment, and created a sleek but chilly thriller, says Peter Bradshaw

Peter Bradshaw

22, Dec, 2011 @10:25 PM

Article image
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cancelled in India
Oscar-nominated thriller withdrawn from release in India after director David Fincher refuses to cut 'unsuitable' sex scenes

Ben Child

30, Jan, 2012 @12:56 PM

Article image
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: 'A cram-pack of clues and chases' - video review

David Fincher's lurid adaptation of Stieg Larsson's first Millennium novel makes this well-thumbed story fresh again, says Xan Brooks

Xan Brooks and Henry Barnes

23, Dec, 2011 @6:15 PM

Article image
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo rethinks the Hollywood remake

Phil Hoad: David Fincher has spritzed his US version of Larsson's book with a respectful faux Swedishness. Could this be a step forward? WARNING: Plot spoilers follow

Phil Hoad

20, Dec, 2011 @12:41 PM

Article image
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director lashes out at US remake

Neils Arden Oplev criticises casting of American actor in lead role of Lisbeth Salander in American version of Swedish film

Andrew Pulver

09, Nov, 2010 @9:48 PM

Article image
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Steven Zaillian on the difficulties of adapting Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson's crime trilogy is being adapted for Hollywood, starting with director David Fincher's Boxing Day blockbuster. 'There was no pressure to lighten it up,' reveals its screenwriter

Alex Godfrey

17, Dec, 2011 @12:03 AM

Article image
David Fincher goes Swede on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Ben Child: A trailer suggests the director's use of the Stockholm setting could yield a more daring adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel

Ben Child

01, Jun, 2011 @4:41 PM

Article image
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo producer blasts film critic over early review
Scott Rudin bans New Yorker reviewer David Denby from future press screenings for breaking film's embargo

Henry Barnes

05, Dec, 2011 @3:51 PM

Article image
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo | Film review

Stieg Larsson's blockbuster crime thriller is brought successfully to the screen, writes Philip French

Philip French

14, Mar, 2010 @12:05 AM