We review The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – A flawed but worthy and visceral remake

6 min read
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 [DISCLAIMER – THIS IS A LONG REVIEW. BRACE YOURSELF]

When I first heard that they were doing an American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was admittedly filled with doubt. Niels Arden Oplev’s original Swedish language adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s international best selling crime novel, had a haunting and naked brutality that glitzy Hollywood does not easily accept. But then I heard that David Fincher – no stranger to the darker side of cinema with movies such as Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac under his belt – was going to be at the helm, and most of my fears were allayed. And for the most part, my faith was rewarded.men Uggs Outlet

After being disgraced in a libel lawsuit, Stockholm journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is approached by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the patriarch of a wealthy industrial family, to investigate the unsolved murder of his great-niece, Harriet, 40 years ago on their family’s private island in Sweden. The killer has been taunting Henrik ever since, and he desperately seeks resolution. The prime suspects though, are the family members themselves; a secretive and dysfunctional group comprised of violent drunkards, recluses and Nazis, most of whom despise each other for the smallest of slights and grudges.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) – the titular character – is an asocial, bisexual, pierced and tattooed, gifted but troubled computer hacker. Initially hired by Vanger via a security firm to do an extensive background check on Blomqvist, she eventually joins him in his attempt to solve the Harriet cold case. Although this page-turner mystery is the central core from which the rest of the story’s events branch out, it has always been Lisbeth’s stygian dark tale – despite it only coming into play late in the first act – that was the most powerful aspect of the original book and movie. Hers is an often brutal and disturbing tale filled with violence both sexual and physical. (The original Swedish title for the book, Men Who Hate Women, may be bit on the nose, but I have always preferred it for the harshly simplistic way it threaded Lisbeth’s initial story into the overall plot.)

So let’s get the big question out of the way immediately: Does Rooney Mara – a relative unknown actress outside of her brief but electrifying turn in Fincher’s last directorial outing, The Social Network – live up to the star making performance of her remake predecessor, Noomi Rapace, as Lisbeth?women Uggs Outlet

Short answer:… Well actually there is no short “yes” or “no” answer. Mara’s performance is not a bad one, in fact it’s a pretty damn great one, and completely deserved of praise. It’s a physically and mentally grueling role and she handles the heavy moments with an emotional ferocity that is almost hard to watch.

But it’s in the quieter moments where her performance differs from that of Rapace’s. Mara’s Lisbeth is a cold, distant and emotionally withdrawn creature that uses her harsh exterior to keep others at arm’s length. But with Rapace, there was a constant tumultuous inferno brimming just beneath the surface. Her spiky carapace wasn’t there to protect her from other people, it was there to protect other people from her.

If I had not seen the original film, I would have zero problem with Rooney, but I did, and so prefer Rapace’s take on the character. But don’t let that take away from a courageous performance from Mara, who has certainly become a talent to keep your eyes on.

The rest of the cast all turn in stoic performances, with Craig’s Blomqvist being a diligent but spartan character with occasional moments of wry levity. An almost mirror of his character is Robin Wright-Penn, as Blomqvist’s editor and initial lover, Erika Berger. While Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skaarsgard – as Harriet’s brother, Martin –  offer some of the movie’s sparse few real sources of warmth.

Director Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth reflect this feeling of tundra bleakness with their visuals. We are shown a collection of austere and unforgiving landscapes, oppressive and foreboding snowscapes and sprawling frigid mansions. It’s a grim and desolate business, but fittingly so.

The script remains mostly unchanged from that of the original, except for a reworked ending to the Harriet mystery – which I actually feel is a much better and more organic resolution – and a subtle but significant change to the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael. Unfortunately, this latter change is one of the film’s few stumbles for me.

[SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING – highlight to read]

In the original, when their relationship evolves beyond just being investigative partners, it is clearly only due to raw physical need, perfectly epitomized in their stunted and lopsided first sexual encounter. Here though, StevenZaillian’s script attempts to soften that encounter, thereby making it into something  just a bit more. But inevitably, this rings false, especially in the film’s now expanded final scene: an almost saccharine touch that just seems at odds with Lisbeth’s established character.

[END SPOILER]

 

 

Slight script and character stumbles notwithstanding, Fincher succesfully manages to put his personal stamp on the overall feel of the film, mainly due to the score by his Social Network collaborators, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It’s an eclectic mix of traditional riffs and ambient electronica, that Fincher uses like a through-line to hang scenes upon. It also provides an almost breakneck backdrop to the film’s many scenes of investigation and information gathering. Without these aural touches, these scenes could easily have slowed down what is already a lengthy movie, a problem that Oplev’s original faced.Cheap Uggs For Sale

Special mention has to be made though, of the film’s absolutely amazing intro title sequence. In an age where most filmmakers have pretty much eschewed this once integral aspect, Fincher reminds us of just how effective it can be. From the moment you hear that unmistakable machine-gun burst-fire bassline of Trent Reznor and Karen O’s reworking of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, and get greeted by the slick and stylish visual of bodies drenched in ink, writhing in nests of computer cables, you know that you’re in for something special. Like the the rest of the film, the intro sequence is a thing of nightmare beauty, rapidly intercut with shattering violence which perfectly sets the scene for the grimness that is to come.

Dragon Tattoo is not a movie for everybody though. The pacing is deliberate, there are very few rays of light to be found in it’s grim vistas and the narrative structure – just like the original – does not follow traditional convention and thus may put off some viewers.  It is also unflinching in it’s execution of the story’s more brutal moments. “The feel bad movie of Christmas” may have sounded like a cheesy tagline in the trailer, but it is 100% accurate. Yes, it has it’s flaws (most of them due to my comparison of the original, admittedly), but also improves on other aspects of it’s predecessor. If you’re looking for a mature film experience, I highly recommend it. And love it or hate it, it will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Last Updated: January 11, 2012

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions – but very little sleep – I’ve been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

  • Theuberutang

    Best movie I have seen in a long long time.
    Original Swedish one dragged on a bit longer to keep me engaged.

  • Purple Dragon

    I have to ask the question, why remake this movie? Nothing worse than sitting through a movie that you’ve basically seen before so you know what is going to happen. Americans obviously don’t like reading subtitles. It’s like the remake of that french movie about the cooks with zeta-jones and Death at a Funeral.

    Annoying.

    • Well you’ve pretty much answered your own question. Foreign language films generally tend to not do to well at the US box office.
      Ironically, this movie has not really been raking in the box office takings specifically because it’s not doing that well outside of the US.

  • Tanith

    Loved the original but I am hesitant to see this.

    I don’t want my “memory” of Lisbeth changed in any way, she was perfectly portrayed to me in the original.

    I reckon that I would need to pick this up in a few years when the story has faded from my mind. Then I might enjoy it for what it is, for now, I wouldn’t be able to turn off the comparison-o-meter.

    • In certain aspects, this remake is superior. But the Lisbeth comparison is unfortunately one that is hard to avoid.

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