Last year was the release of Let Me In, the Americanised remake of the Swedish vampiric horror Let the Right One In. Although the original was close to perfection, the remake felt for the most part, a shot-by-shot translation with everything cramped up to eleven, in terms of blood-splattering, visual effects and vampire cliches, all of which seemed unnecessary. Out that same year was the film adaptations of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy featuring astonishing performances from its two stars Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, and despite the televisual sequels, Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo alone was one of the most inventive thrillers in recent years. As 2011 comes to an end, The Social Network‘s director David Fincher presents his version of Larsson’s first novel, much to the disapproval of Mr Oplev.
When the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) receives a phone call from industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), he is offered the strangest of jobs. Blomkvist is to investigate the forty-year-old disappearance of Henrik’s niece Harriet, of whom the industrialist believed was murdered by someone in the Vanger family. During his investigation, Blomkvist hires the assistance of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a computer hacker whose past hasn’t been a pleasant one.
Despite the Danish director of the original being very unhappy about this retelling (there was even an article about his disdain in The Guardian), there’s nothing to be angry about towards Fincher’s film. Unlike the copycat antics of Let Me In, the American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo not only takes its cue from Larsson’s novel, but also retains its Swedish origin. This would have been risky as the multinational cast could have sounded like the foreigners from Roland Emmerich’s 2012, and yet even with the hinted use of the Swedish accent, actors like Christopher Plummer and Robin Wright don’t overstate it.
At the heart of the book and the Swedish original is the unlikely pairing of the two protagonists, both of which come from two different backgrounds. During the first act of the story, we see the two worlds of these characters prior to their encounter of one another. Mikael Blomkvist investigates the cold case within the Vangers’ snowy island, whilst Lisbeth Salander has to deal with her new sadist guardian (subtlety and scarily played by Yorick van Wageningen). While Daniel Craig captures the gruffness of Blomkvist even though it’s slightly Bond, Rooney Mara has the tough challenge of playing a role that was brilliantly done before by Noomi Rapace, of which she succeeds. With her pitch-black hair and piercings, Mara shows her tough exterior but also captures the tragicness of the character, certainly towards the very end of the story in which she wishes for a normal life.
Although Niels Arden Oplev directed the original with an element of grunginess which shows a greater association with the country, David Fincher’s direction brings a more stylish approach, in as much as Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography is absolutely stunning. Having directed a number of extreme works such as Seven and Zodiac, Fincher doesn’t shy away from the tough realism of the sexual violence without feeling forced. As for the use of music (a lot of it composed by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), the singing voice of Enya is strangely played during one intense sequence.
Even though it is well paced despite being over two and a half hours long, the film’s only flaw is based on the final moments in which the investigation takes its time to finish (in a very Agatha Christie fashion) and the story has to go back to the subplot in order to regain Blomkvist’s journalistic reputation. This unnecessary plot device was somewhat echoed in the original, as well as trying to wrap everything up, although the very last sequence is a nice little nod to the book’s final pages.
While it doesn’t break any new ground and is neither superior or inferior to the Swedish original, Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is both brutal and captivating along with two fine performances from Mara and Craig.
DIRECTOR: DAVID FINCHER
SCREENWRITER: STEVEN ZAILLIAN
STARRING: ROONEY MARA, DANIEL CRAIG, STELLEN SKARSGARD, ROBIN WRIGHT, STEVEN BERKOFF, YORICK VAN WAGENINGEN, JOELY RICHARDSON
COUNTRIES: USA, UK, SWEDEN, GERMANY
RUNTIME: 158 MINS