There aren’t many filmmakers working today who are as revered as David Fincher. Thanks to films like Fight Club, The Social Network, and Zodiac, Fincher has become one of the most successful and popular auteur filmmakers of the past 30 years. However, even someone as dependable as Fincher can make movies that aren’t quite as well-received as others, with some titles destined to be strangely underrated entries in a well-known filmography.
At least, that’s certainly the case with 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The film, an adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s 2005 novel, mostly received positive reviews when it was released but hasn’t become quite as coveted as many of the other films that Fincher has made over the years. That’s a shame because Fincher’s take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ranks as one of the darkest and most quietly intense Hollywood thrillers of the 2010s.
Fortunately, it’s available to stream now on Netflix, which means it’s never been easier to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Like every great crime thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo begins with a mystery — in this case, the 40-year-old disappearance and suspected murder of a 16-year-old girl.
The film follows a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) after he is hired by the missing girl’s granduncle, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to investigate her disappearance. Along the way, Mikael recruits Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the film’s titular antisocial hacker and unofficial detective, into helping him with his investigation.
What follows is a twisty and chilling murder mystery, one that grows increasingly darker and more disturbing the further into its runtime it gets. In the end, the film’s central plot culminates in a sequence that is just as dread-inducing and stomach-churningly intense as one of the very best moments in Fincher’s other great thriller: the basement scene in Zodiac.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which clocks in at a whopping 158 minutes in length, never drags or feels rushed.
While following Lisbeth and Mikael, Fincher adopts the same mentality he did in Zodiac, leaning just as much into the drudgery and repetitious nature of detective work as he does the creepy paranoia that accompanies the film’s central mystery. As a result, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo achieves a strangely meditative rhythm, one that chugs steadily along for about 2 hours until the moment comes when Fincher decides to ratchet the tension all the way up.
Working in tandem with the film’s script, Jeff Cronenweth’s dimly lit, muted cinematography helps to highlight The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s dark, wintery Scandinavian locales. Meanwhile, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ atmospheric, methodical score imbues every scene in the film with a quiet, pulsating tension, which maintains the movie’s sense of momentum even when Lisbeth and Mikael’s investigation hits another dead end or takes an unexpected detour.
Of course, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wouldn’t work if the performances given by its leads, Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, failed to reach the same heights as its cinematography, music, direction, and script.
Both Craig and Mara exceed the demands of their respective roles. As Mikael, Craig is smart and capable but carries himself with a subdued, unassuming nonchalance. Mara, however, steals nearly every scene she’s in, playing Lisbeth with raw volatility and messy vulnerability that perfectly communicates the character’s numerous layers and defense mechanisms.
Together, the actors turn Mikael and Lisbeth into a compelling and unlikely screen duo, and it’s a shame that we never got the chance to see Craig and Mara reunite as their characters in a sequel. Fortunately, the film we did get is still one for the books, a wintery crime thriller that’s as well-crafted as just about any other movie David Fincher has ever made — and is deserving of just as much attention and respect.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is streaming now on Netflix.