Watch This: No one elevates pulp to art like David Fincher


Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whimsThis week: With a new Tom Clancy movie, Without Remorse, premiering on Amazon Prime, we’re looking back on other Hollywood adaptations of mass paperback novels, a.k.a. so-called airport fiction.

By Alex McLevy, AV Club

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

In the wake of Gone GirlMindhunter, and more, no one doubts David Fincher’s ability to take pulpy stories straight from the bargain paperback racks and make some top-shelf cinematic entertainment from them. But his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo still felt like an unexpected return to his roots when it hit theaters a decade ago. Sure, Fincher knew his way around a serial killer story, and the early part of his filmography was essentially nothing but fast-paced popcorn fare like SevenThe Game, and Panic Roommovies that tarted up visceral thrills with thoughtfulness. But his three films prior to the bestseller adaptation—ZodiacThe Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network—marked a transition into more “serious,” intellectually rich work. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is many things, but intellectually rich is not one of them. As we noted in our review at the time, in contrast to his deeper, more elegant films, it’s “all surface—magnificent, arresting surface, but surface all the same.”

Luckily, Fincher excelled at combining the lurid fun of his early movies with the exacting headiness of that pre-Dragon Tattoo triptych. Like Hitchcock with The 39 Steps or Jonathan Demme with The Silence Of The Lambs, Fincher elevates the twists and turns of his tawdry source material, making its B-movie pleasures sing.

Make no mistake, Larsson’s novel is awash in disreputable subject matter: rape, murder, exploitation, blackmail, all thrown into the mix with little concern for subtlety or sophistication. The book’s occasional aspirations to highbrow literature—note the old-money family at the core of its murder mystery—were always quickly dragged back down into the gleefully trashy narrative the author had crafted. It took the icy precision of Fincher’s execution to turn gimcrack wannabe artistry into the real thing.


Blomkvist and Salander uncover evidence that links the disappearance to a string of murders by a serial killer, leading to ever-increasing violence and danger as they get closer to the truth. (There’s also an awkward sexual relationship between the two.)

It’s no spoiler to say that the discovery of the person responsible for all the bloodshed isn’t even the climax of the film—after solving the mystery, there’s still a whole other act that involves resolving the Vanger family situation and restoring Blomkvist’s good name. But somehow, Fincher manages to radically improve this unwieldy and overstuffed story, without even excising much of the novel’s bulk.

It’s an arduous task that he makes look easy, with assistance from Steven Zaillian’s fleet screenplay and strong performances from everyone involved, especially Craig and Mara. In doing so, the director didn’t just solidify his adaptation chops (far more successfully than he did via his uneven reworking of F. Scott Fitzgerald with Benjamin Button three years prior). He also joined a proud tradition of Hollywood auteurs who have found inspiration in the gutter, fusing lowbrow and highbrow to fiendishly entertaining ends.

Availability: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s also available to rent or purchase digitally from AmazonGoogle PlayApplesMicrosoftFandango NowRedboxAMC On DemandDirecTV, and VU

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Originario de la ciudad de San Luis Potosí, SLP., México, ha sido periodista en la ciudad de Los Ángeles, desde 1985 a la fecha. Con el diario La Opinión ocupo la posición de Editor de Arte y Cultura. Actualmente es Editor Ejecutivo y escritor de la revista bilingüe-digital, especializada en Arte, Cultura y Entretenimiento. Ha cubierto, para La Opinión y, la ceremonia de entrega de los premios Oscar por más de 15 años, ofreciendo siempre una perspectiva latina sobre dicho evento. Está en proceso de publicar el libro Voces de Los Ángeles, una colección de sus entrevistas con grandes cineastas de Latinoamérica, Hollywood y el mundo. En 2005 obtuvo el Fellwoship en Cultural Journalism que anualmente entrega la prestigiada Annenberg School of Journalism en la Universidad del Sur de California, Los Ángeles (USC). Entre los medios internacionales con los que ha colaborado se encuentran: Revista Proceso (México), Diario El País (España), Diario La Jornada (México), Revista Marcha (Argentina). Ha sido miembro activo de Los Ángeles Film Critics Association y de otras organizaciones dedicadas al periodismo cinematográfico y cultural en Estados Unidos. Correo: [email protected]