Movie Review – Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The (2011)
– Summary –
Director : David Fincher
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Steven Berkoff, Geraldine James, Joely Richardson, Yorick van Wageningen, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Embeth Davidz, Per Myrberg, Alan Dale, Julian Sands.
Approx Running Time : 160 Minutes
Synopsis: Michael Blomkvist is hired by a Swedish businessman to solve a 40 year old murder mystery on an isolated island in the dead of winter. Lisbeth Salander, a rebellious woman working as an investigator, becomes entangled with Blomkvist when she’s hired to assist.
What we think : Comparisons to the original Swedish version aside, the 2011 edition of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is smart, slick, intelligent and eminently watchable. Newcomers to the franchise might feel a little lost in the sheer volume of information on offer, as the story’s central murder mystery begins to evolve, those more familiar with the Millennium books/films will appreciate the level of detail Fincher and Co went to to get this just right. Daniel Craig is solid as Mikael Blomkvist, Rooney Mara is intense as Lisbeth Salander, and the always reliable Christopher Plummer is a delight as the elderly Vanger.
The idea of a big-budget Hollywood remake of a successful Swedish film from only two years prior seemed something akin to hubris on a grand scale to me, given that audience frustration with lame, badly written hackneyed retooling of favorite films from foreign shores has reached the stage where people actively hate the process. Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, the first book of which is the basis for this film, was never really crying out for an American version, especially in light of just how critically acclaimed the 2009 Swedish version was, and I was wary of this being another one of those Enemy At The Gates scenarios – stick a bunch of big name actors into the film, get them to speak in dodgy accents, and hope it all translates well to an audience who finds it easier not having to read subtitles the entire time. Daniel Craig, currently the latest incarnation of James Bond, never struck me as the ideal candidate for the role of Mikael Blomkvist, especially since I felt the role was ably essayed by Michael Nykvist in the first version. Craig seemed more intense than brooding, at least to me, so I couldn’t quite make the connection. Rooney Mara scored the role of Lisbeth Salander, the titular “girl” of the movie, a role sought by almost every major Hollywood A-list actress before she scooped the part. Much was expected of the remake, mainly thanks to recent memory of a superb original, and collectively Hollywood and film fans around the world held their breath as acclaimed director David Fincher helmed the English-language variant of this popular story.
Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) publishes Millennium Magazine, and has just been found guilty of libel by the Swedish court in a case against a corrupt businessman. In disgrace, Blomkvist retreats from his work, choosing to take up an investigation into a 40-year-old murder mystery. Wealthy Swedish entrepreneur Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) lives on an island in the north of Sweden, and every year on his birthday is sent a framed flower with no note, return address or other identifying mark. Vanger requests Blomkvist solve the apparent murder and disappearance of his young grandniece, Harriet (Moa Garpendal) who went missing after a bizarre accident on the only bridge leading off the island prevented anybody from leaving. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an investigator and computer hacker who did a background check on Blomkvist before Vanger hired him, is an antagonistic, rebellious and somewhat antisocial woman living under the care of the state; her previous guardian is hospitalized, leading a new guardian to be appointed: Niels Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), who seizes control of her finances and, in a particularly confronting scene, rapes her. After seeking revenge for her attack, Salander becomes involved with Blomkvist’s case when he asks her to assist. As they delve deeper into the mystery of what happened to Harriet, the Vanger family secrets begin to bubble to the surface, and the knowledge is not something either Blomkvist or Salander are comfortable with.
Comparisons between the Fincher version of Dragon Tattoo and the Swedish film, helmed by Niel Arden Oplev, are almost inevitable. Strike that – they are inevitable. After all, remakes are usually judged solely on how well they recapture the feelings of the original movie, as if they somehow piggyback on the emotion we have for “beloved” characters and events. That’s not to say Lisbeth Salander could ever be considered a “beloved” character, but remakes are insidiously good at trying to use a pre-formed idea of what a character should be like or talk like or feel like, and buttressing that against what minor changes the filmmaker might deem worthwhile. Remakes, in my opinion, are notoriously parasitical in this regard. So it’s warranted that a remake be compared to the film it’s a remake of, and judgement passed on whether it’s successfully able to distance itself from, or remain as effective as, the original. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo offers up two distinctly different films – one in English, the other (the original) in Swedish – for comparison, and for the most part, the two films are identical in plot. They have to be, because both films follow the original novel text quite closely. There are minor differences, some subtle (like Vanger’s decision to buy a controlling share of Millennium Magazine, in order to get back at the aforementioned Corrupt businessman who sued Blomkvist) and others not quite so much (the addition of Blomkvist’s daughter, who is attending religious training her father obviously disapproves of), but essentially, you watch one, you’ve seen the other.
Let’s not dilly-dally: this film is sharply made. Fincher’s keen eye for style and substance, as established in his early work like Se7en and The Game, and manifesting themselves fully in recent fare such as Zodiac and The Social Network (the former being one of my favorite thrillers of the last ten years), one more makes itself known here. He brings a sense of virtuosity to the screen, much like he did for Zodiac, creating a sense of place within the framing and lighting and editing that lives and breathes on the screen. Whereas Oplev made a film which seemed to keep audiences at an emotional distance (although, come to think of it, that could have been an unfortunate byproduct of me not being able to speak Swedish fluently, and thus missing possible nuances in the characters in his version), Fincher – together with a solid script from Social Network scribe Steven Zallian – gets these folks to exist in reality. You believe these people could exist, and not merely be some sort of fantasy creation personified by an actor acting the role. Zallian’s screenplay gets the job done, and does it well. Fincher helms the film with a sure hand, unafraid to present even the most despicable human behavior with a punishing level of alacrity. A key scene, in which Salander gets the upper hand on the evil Bjurman, is wrenching to watch (as it was in Oplev’s version) as part of you wants to punch the air and say “right on, girl!” while shaking your head at just how low human beings are capable of sinking. Still, the anger and rage of Lisbeth Salander needs a basis, and this event triggers a multitude of consequences, the large majority of which will play out in subsequent films (that’s assuming Fincher makes The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked A Hornet’s Nest, of course); as a foundation for our understanding of Salander as a character, this sequence is not only required, but it’s required to be animalistic and brutal, which is just how Fincher films it.
Of course, this film would be nothing without the talents of the key cast – Fincher loads up on quality in this regard, with current Bond Daniel Craig as Blomvist, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Goran Visnjic, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright and Embeth Davidtz all making a showing in several key roles; yet, the film is at its most powerful when Lisbeth Salander is front-and-center, with Rooney Mara doing what I once considered to be unthinkable. She actually manages to differentiate herself from Noomi Rapace’s iconic portrayal of Salander. In my review of the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I described Rapace’s performance as “searing”, and I felt at the time it would be impossible to see anyone else convincingly portray the role: I admit defeat. Rooney Mara is equally as searing, equally as iconic, and equally as superb in such a difficult role, and I take my hat off to her achievements. Her demeanor in this film is spot-on even with Rapace’s, but whereas Rapace gave Salander a forceful, burning strength, Mara seems to keep that hidden more often than not, providing Salander’s character with a sense of determination as opposed to single-minded rage. This is something I think Rapace missed in the character to a degree – at least in the first film. Chris Plummer has carved a career in recent decades of playing the doddery old sage-ly widsom-y statesman, and while affecting the Swedish accent does little for his screen chemistry overall, he delivers the role with usual aplomb. Mention must be made of the films most obvious villain, Niels Bjurman, who rapes Salander before getting his comeuppance: Yorick van Wageningen does a stellar job as the evil government appointed guardian, and although still not a patch on Peter Andersson’s variant in the original, he is creepy and vile enough to warrant his fate.
On a production level, this film oozes class. From Fincher’s direction, to Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall’s Oscar-winning editing, to Trent Renzor & Atticus Ross’s superb electronic score, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has everything working in its favor, and the end result is sublime. Pulsating, eerie, stylish – Renzor and Ross have upped the ante on their previous collaboration with Fincher for The Social Network, and I think this score is the superior. One of my favorite aspects of the film from a technical perspective is the sound design; it’s flawless. Every nuance of the soundtrack, from whisper quiet to the more aurally discordant, is absolute ear-candy of the highest order. Sure, this isn’t a Transformers movie, so don’t go expecting to hear Earth-shaking bass and whatnot, but the film’s aural track is easily one of the better of the last year for its elegant simplicity and razor-sharp focus.
The Fincher version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo might be almost a carbon copy of Olev’s earlier work, at least plot point for plot point, but the subtle nuances Fincher works into his film more than make this a different beast. It’s an American take on a Swedish story, and not to put to fine a point on it, I think Fincher’s done his country proud. His film is different enough to be original, yet similar enough to retain some kind of symbiotic resonance with viewers who’ve seen the original. While I would never say that Finchers’ is the better film, as far as the raw, gut-punch that the Swedish version had, but as a slick, well filmed edition of this story, it’s a movie of substantial quality. Well worth your time.
What others are saying about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo:
The dudes at Review Film didn’t think it was much chop: “Wading through a calmer sea than that of Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 Swedish outing, the more gritty and ultimately satisfying of the two, Fincher’s Girl strangely softens the rough and memorable edges boasted first time round and replaces them with a cool and collective visual veneer due to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth’s handsome precision. “
Dan The Man felt it was a missed opportunity: “Even though it didn’t fully come out the way I would have liked to wish, I still couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Christmas night then watching 2 hours and 40 minutes worth of incest, rape, lesbians, and James Bond wearing glasses.”
Aiden at Cut The Crap thought it was good: “Quite the improvement on the original, but can’t quite top the book.”
Sam at Duke & The Movies thought it was focusing on the wrong thing: “Too much time appears to have been focuses on the look of the film –which is beautiful, to you know, look at – but not necessarily to watch a story unfold. “
Teri at Front Room Cinema breathed a sigh of relief when Fincher came on board to direct: “The look, the feel of the film, along with the crisp industrial soundtrack provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, fits the atmosphere of the book perfectly; dark, psycho-sexual, Scandi-exotic swathed in noirish urban grit.”
The guys over at 3 Guys 1 Movie loved it: “I thought this was an excellent adaptation of the novel. This surpassed the original version of the film from my viewpoint.”
Brian at The Movie Brothers had this to say: “I’ll give credit to Rooney Mara. She’s by far the best thing in the film and brings and energy to her character that the rest of the film lacks. “
And finally, my mate Al over at The Bar None thought they gabbed too much: “Maybe what would be cool would be a little life, a little feeling, something with more dimension than the page because if you want to get involved with this guy you’re gonna need something deeper than drink and juicier to sink your teeth into than just paper. More than just words. Unfortunately, words is all we get with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”
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