The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-attachment0

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Movie Information

The Story: A disgraced journalist takes a job for a wealthy industrialist to solve a 40-year-old mystery. The Lowdown: Physically darker than the 2010 Swedish film adaptation of the book, but not darker in content. Still very effective — and certainly easier on subtitle resistant audiences.
Score:

Genre: Mystery Thriller
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright
Rated: R

Those who kneel at the altar of David Fincher are determined that his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo exists in a vacuum. These devotees say that to compare Fincher’s film to the earlier Swedish adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel — a film that was an art house hit in 2010 — is unfair and beside the point (at least if the comparison isn’t in Fincher’s favor). They say Fincher’s new version of the same story and not a remake. Well, maybe. The problem is, I’ve read the book and I’ve seen the Swedish film. It’s impossible just to pretend that the earlier film version doesn’t exist, especially since the stories in both versions are virtually identical. Both films tell the story of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig in this version) who is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for 40 years by a clever, deeply troubled hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). For me, the Fincher version is ultimately superfluous. I was satisfied with the first one. That leaves this new version appealing largely to those who are subtitle-phobic or have elevated Fincher to directorial demi-god status.

I am not saying that Fincher’s film is bad. I was, in fact, quite pleasantly surprised by how the film held my interest for its entire length despite the fact that I knew everything that was going to happen. In all honesty, I’d expected to be more than a little bored. The material has — in many ways — been Fincherized, which in this case means it looks a bit like Seven (1995). The film is physically dark, the sun never seems to shine and Sweden often looks like Soviet Russia, but it’s effective in its way. (That this visual style doesn’t appeal to me is another matter for another discussion.) The story remains compelling and convoluted, and still has one aspect that’s bugged me from day one, which can only be discussed once you’ve seen either film or read the book.

Both films make departures from the book, of course. It’s the nature of the beast when translating several hundred pages of book to even a two-and-a-half hour film. What’s interesting lies in the respective choices of changes — some of which are difficult to discuss without giving away too much to people encountering the story for the first time. Both alter the ending — or rather different parts of the ending. Oplev’s film alters the manner in which the villain (the main villain) gets his come-uppance in a way that makes Lisbeth somewhat less sympathetic. Interestingly, Fincher’s film adds an exchange between Lisbeth and Mikael that takes both of them into that less sympathetic realm, but then reverts to something more like the book. Fincher’s film retains the book’s bittersweet, quasi-romantic final scene, which Oplev’s film omitted. That’s actually a little strange, since Fincher is hardly the go-to guy for romanticism!

The biggest change lies in an aspect of the solution being left out of the new film, which made that part feel a little abrupt to me — probably only because it wasn’t what I was expecting. I do, however, think Fincher’s film kind of blows the central reunion of the film — at least in terms of emotional punch. Otherwise, I’d say the differences in what was added or left out between the two versions is pretty much a wash. If they’re planning on a sequel, Fincher’s film was probably wise not to include the material about Lisbeth from the second book the way Oplev did, since that choice rendered one of the big revelations in the second film not much a surprise.

Performances are all first rate, though you might find — as I did — that Rooney Mara makes for a somewhat softer title character than Noomi Rapace did in the original. She seems a little more transparent in her emotions and definitely boasts more of an evident sense of humor.  There’s a certain uneven quality in the use of accents. Why, for example, does Christopher Plummer affect a vague Swedish accent and Daniel Craig doesn’t? (Accents at all seem a little unnecessary, since, let’s face it, the characters are only speaking English for our benefit anyway.) I was slightly amused by the film having Julian Sands play Plummer’s character in flashbacks. Can we assume that in 40 years Sands will look like Plummer does today?

I’ll be interested to see if such a dark and even unpleasant tale fares well outside of the generally more adventurous art-house realm, but if you aren’t troubled by such, this is certainly worth a look. The new film maintains the basic grotesqueries, but is actually a little tamer in its presentation. (It’s worth remembering that the Swedish film went out unrated and could go further without fear of censorship issues.) That, however doesn’t mean Fincher’s version is for the timid. Rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

15 thoughts on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  1. Dionysis

    This is not about this particular film (neither version have I seen), but rather remakes. Over the weekend, I watched the original and remake of Straw Dogs, and wondered “why bother” with putting out a sub-standard remake? One has to wonder if creativity and originality are waning in filmdom currently.

    I know remakes are not new, but in the past several years, none of them seem to be anything but pale copies of the originals. I’d be hard-pressed to think of an exception at this moment.

  2. Ken Hanke

    One has to wonder if creativity and originality are waning in filmdom currently.

    In a lot of cases I think there’s some truth to that — and it doesn’t begin and end with the remake question. Looking back over 2011 — which did indeed have some outstanding films — and having just gone through the awards season marathon of hyped titles on screeners (with some peculiar omissions), I was astonished by the general feeling of “same old stuff,” especially in the realm of independent film. The approaches and the material are interchangeable with the movies that have been being brought out over the last 11 years.

    I know remakes are not new, but in the past several years, none of them seem to be anything but pale copies of the originals. I’d be hard-pressed to think of an exception at this moment.

    Well, I guess one can cite Scrosese’s The Departed, but after that, I’m stumped, though I have nothing against this particular remake, except feeling it’s basically superfluous — even if you insist that it’s actually a new version of the book. There is a significant difference between remakes in the old days and remakes now. Back “then,” studios just tended to remake properties they owned, because it was cheap. Usually, the remakes were like Two Against the World (1936) — a remake of Five Star Final (1931). It was an unassuming 60 min. programmer, a B picture meant to pass muster as little more than filler. The modern idea of the remake positions the film as a big deal major event — and it rarely is.

  3. Xanadon't

    Surprised True Grit wasn’t mentioned as an exception, though as you stated in your review it’s more a re-adaptation than a strict remake.

    But the Coen brothers have earned the right to remake, re-adapt, or re-imagine anything they damn well please. Their talents and vision could make anything feel fresh.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Surprised True Grit wasn’t mentioned as an exception, though as you stated in your review it’s more a re-adaptation than a strict remake.

    Actually, it should have been mentioned. For that matter — and I know I’m in the minority here — I like their rethinking of The Ladykillers. I also like Neil Jordan’s remake of Bob Le Flambeur, The Good Thief, but that’s hardly a film that was positioned as an event. Then again, I think True Grit was only an event by accident so far as the Coens were concerned. I also have a soft-spot for Jonathan Demme’s riff on Charade, The Truth About Charlie — which not many people cared for and a few so-called critics didn’t even realize was a remake. (It wasn’t promoted as one.)

  5. Xanadon't

    Not familiar with The Good Thief or its source material. Haven’t seen The Truth about Charlie either.

    But I’ll toss Peter Jackson’s King Kong out there as a remake that was worthy of its daunting heritage.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Haven’t seen The Truth about Charlie either.

    You should look for it in remainder and used bins, because if you get the right copy (they’re marked) you also get Charade as a bonus. I think there’s now a posh copy — like Criterion or something — of Charade, but there are a lot of crap copies out there because it somehow became public domain. That bonus copy actually came from Universal and is in nice shape and anamorphically enhanced.

    But I’ll toss Peter Jackson’s King Kong out there as a remake that was worthy of its daunting heritage

    I have nothing against it, but I’ve never felt even the slightest desire to see it again. The 1933 is another story. One thing that’s interesting about some of these remakes like King Kong, The Ladykillers, The Good Thief, The Truth About Charlie is that they’re all made by fans of the originals.

  7. Dionysis

    “Surprised True Grit wasnТt mentioned as an exception, though as you stated in your review itТs more a re-adaptation than a strict remake.”

    I probably should have cited this film as an exception; I thought it better than the original by far (but then again, I was never a fan of The Duke).

  8. Ken Hanke

    I probably should have cited this film as an exception; I thought it better than the original by far (but then again, I was never a fan of The Duke).

    Throw in Kim Darby and Glenn Campbell and it gets even grimmer.

  9. Steph

    I appreciate Fincher but alway feel his movies are a good 30 minutes too long. Benjamin Button was a good 2+ hours too long. Am looking forward to his take on Dragon Tattoo but I have to agree with the others: I thought the Swedish one was great and didn’t need to be remade by Hollywood. AT least they didn’t use Tom Hanks and Scarlett Johannson. I guess they get a few points for casting it well.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Regardless of how you feel about Hanks and Johansson, that casting would be pretty far-fetched even in Hollywood terms. This is the closest I’ve ever come to actually liking one of Fincher’s movies, so I guess I don’t appreciate him. I appreciate the obvious effort he puts into these things, but the results tend to leave me cold — or, as in the case of The Gumpian Case of Benjamin Button, worse.

  11. Jim Donato

    Fincher leaves me worse than cold. He leaven me on the slab and half rotting. I am on record about hating “Se7en” more than any film I’ve ever gone to [and that includes "The Skin I Live In" - yech]. I think Fincher’s acme was reached pretty early with his “Metropolis” ripoff video for Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” Just reading about the development hell surrounding “Alien 3″ was enough to help me formulate my “no sequels” policy in the early 90s which has held me in good stead ever since.

    I think we’re all agreed about the many, many merits of The Coen’s “True Grit.” When I heard they were making that film I had large confidence that they could really run with it. That they did.

  12. Xanadon't

    “I was, in fact, quite pleasantly surprised by how the film held my interest for its entire length despite the fact that I knew everything that was going to happen.”

    Wish I could say the same. This felt like the definition of Unnecessary Remake. Is Fincher really gonna retread all of them? Haven’t bothered to check what kind of box-office success this has had, but I can’t imagine such a task being deemed anything greater than a modest failure.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Considering the popularity of the book(s), you surely didn’t expect it to be all that different — except maybe in terms of style and being in English — did you? I assumed going in that it was going to cover almost exactly the same ground, which is why it surprised me when I didn’t get bored with it. Is it superfluous? Sure it is, but considering the number of people who are resistant to foreign language films, it’s hardly surprising that it was done. The unfortunate thing is that the two sequels might benefit more from remaking. It was partly due to the fact that the 2nd and 3rd books weren’t as good, but it was largely due to the change in directors that they felt more perfunctory. As it stands now, I don’t see those follow-up films. If, as is reported, this thing cost $90 million, it needs to make about $180 million to go into profit. Right now, it’s nowhere near that and may never get there. That might be because it’s unnecessary, but I suspect it has more to do with the material not being mainstream friendly. Art house audiences aren’t as squeamish as the mainstream ones (generally speaking), and what was okay on the printed page may be a little too immediate on the screen for a lot of readers. Interestingly, the original only cost $13 million and grossed $104 million worldwide, but its US grosses only account for $10 million of that.

  14. Xanadon't

    Considering the popularity of the book(s), you surely didn’t expect it to be all that different — except maybe in terms of style and being in English — did you?

    I guess I’m not sure what I expected. To be honest, my main motivation for seeing the film was that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross collaborated to create the score (which is what I enjoyed most about The Social Network as well). Beyond that, I suppose I was hoping that Fincher would magically bring something fresh to his version of the story. But it retrospect, and by your sound reasoning, indeed there was never much basis for such an expectation.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Cheer up, at least he’s made the Fincherites happy, it seems.

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