David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
David Fincher returns to the gritty kind of material that made him a household name as a director with an American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the first book in the “Millennium Trilogy.” You may recall that the same novel was made into an excellent Swedish film merely two years ago and released into the States just last year. With the original’s success, it was only a matter of time before it was re-adapted for an English-speaking audience, and with many people seeing this story for the first time, it will be fresh and suspenseful, but for those who saw the Swedish film last year, there could be a slightly different reaction.
The story follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who has just wrapped up a lawsuit placed against him for libel against a businessman. While celebrating the holidays with his family and friends, he gets a phone call from the lawyer of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), informing Mikael that Henrik would like to see him right away. Having left the magazine he helped run, Mikael meets with Henrik who has a job to offer him. He wants Mikael to investigate the disappearance and assumed murder of his niece, Harriet, from 40 years ago, a case that was never solved. After some skepticism about being able to help, Mikael takes the case and begins the investigation that includes a large family tree of suspects who were all present on the island where the incident occurred so many years ago.
Intertwined with Mikael’s story is that of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a hacking expert who was hired by Henrik’s lawyer to do a complete background check on Mikael. Lisbeth is a troubled, antisocial youth who is in the care of the state and must meet with a guardian who controls her bank account and assesses how she is getting along. When her current guardian becomes incapacitated, she is forced to meet with a new one, except this one requires her to do more than just meet with him in order to get money she needs for a new computer. Eventually she must take matters into her own hands to deal with the situation. Not long after, to her surprise, Mikael comes knocking on her door, requesting her help on the case. Together they try to piece together exactly what happened on that fateful day and who was responsible for Harriet’s death.
Right away, I should state that this is not as good as the original film, but that’s not to say it’s not a good version in its own right. This is a decent telling of the same events, but with a few very small differences, mainly having to do with minor plot points. For instance, in the original film, when the two start investigating a series of murders that are somehow connected to Harriet’s disappearance, the two spend a lot of time together, allowing the characters to become closer as they work together. However, this version has Lisbeth doing this part of the investigation on her own, and in a much shorter time. This ends up making the characters spend more time apart, which makes their eventual relationship seem stranger and more random than it did in the original film.
This version also seemed to be lacking some of the intensity that was ever-present in the original film, partly because of the rushed section mentioned above. It’s rather hard to judge whether the suspense was at the same level, knowing who was responsible and what happened to Harriet even before entering the theater, but I can say that the web of suspects is weaved very well. One of the more difficult things about this story is the number of family members in the Vanger clan and trying to keep them all straight. Seeing this version after having seen the original twice certainly helped in that respect.
While this is a decent version of the events, it’s easy to see where it would not be particularly exciting for those who have already seen the previous film, especially given that the film was just out last year. It seems a more prudent thing to have done would have been to wait a few more years instead of jumping into this new version right away. It would have been more understandable if Fincher and crew were doing something significantly new with the material, but not much is changed here at all, basically making it feel like watching the same film over again, but, as mentioned before, with less intensity, and less anticipation when you realize that nothing new is being done.
That being said, if anyone was to do a remake/new adaptation of the material, Fincher was the right man for the job, given that he’s familiar with similar dark material having directed films like “Seven” and “Zodiac.” He knows how to handle such a tone, and once again does a great job with it, showing his ability to delve into the darker side of human nature.
The leads were also well chosen. Daniel Craig brings a great amount of determination to the role as he twists and turns through the web of suspects, but even more impressive is Rooney Mara in the difficult role of Lisbeth Salander. In the role originally played exquisitely by Noomi Rapace, she brings out the reclusiveness of the character quite well. The character is quite fascinating. She’s a strong-willed woman with her own fair amount of determination when it comes to asserting herself with her new guardian as well as with the 40-year-old case. Her interesting nature has made her one of the most talked about literary/cinematic characters of the last couple of years.
Overall, if you haven’t seen the original Swedish film (which is highly recommended), this new version is good enough to recommend as a fair telling of the story with some really good performances and direction. However, if you’ve already seen the previous film, the most interest this version will probably hold is as a comparison to it, with different talent involved, or to Larsson’s novel. Either way, it’s worth seeing, and depending on how well it does at the box office, we can probably expect a new adaptation of “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” the second book in the trilogy, very soon. 3/4 stars.
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