The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

US (2011) Dir. David Fincher

I imagine a plot recap isn’t necessary for this US remake of the Swedish adaptation of the best selling novels from the late Stieg Larsson so I’ll get straight the review. As a fan of World Cinema (and in this case the original Millennium trilogy) I always dread the moment when a great film not made in the US of Stateside lights up the eyes of the bean counters in Hollywood upon hatching their devilish plan to prey upon those who suffer from subtitle-phobia and an aversion to anything with dialogue not spoken in American-English and produce a homogenised and usually inferior version of said film. So when the exploits of Larsson’s anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander hit the big screen in her native Sweden and become an international success it was only a matter of time before Tinsel Town was to commission their version. And here it is.

David Fincher, the man who gave us Fight Club, The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was tasked with providing mainstream film goers with a non-subtitled version of this gripping and inventive thriller and surprisingly has managed to stick fairly close not just to the original source material of Larsson’s book but also to the dark and brooding mood of the Swedish film.

In fact, aesthetically the two films match up pretty closely in terms of locations and settings, especially the wintry island of Hedeby. The interpretations of some of the key events also match up pretty well too, which creates an interesting dilemma – do we criticise this film for what is almost a direct lift of the Swedish film or, if they had been changed drastically would we curse Fincher for messing with familiar materials?

One immediate observation highlights this problem: the film and story is still set in Sweden and not relocated to the US as is the normal procedure for US remakes, and the cast all keep their Swedish names. That is fine but everyone speaks in a nice clear English accent! Okay, some try to add a European edge to it but it rarely lasts.

Perhaps it’s me but if someone is named Mikael, Lisbeth, Gottfried or Nils then I don’t expect to hear a proper English accent coming out of their mouths. Then again had Fincher renamed what have now become fairly well known characters to something more Western I imagine we would have seen his name in the obituary columns by now. Of course some of us would say “Why remake it in the first place?” and this adds some credence to such cynicism.

I have to say I didn’t hate this film as I have done other remakes of world cinema output but I have my criticism. I found the pace rather slow compared to the Swedish version which moved more briskly to me making the 2 ½ hour running time feel longer. There are some things which were featured here which didn’t appear in the Swedish version (Mikael’s daughter for instance and the protracted ending) and vice versa. One of the key factors of the story was that Mikael had his jail term deferred yet here he was completely let off from his incarceration despite having clearly committed a crime.

The relationship between Mikael and Erika Berger was also underplayed here as was Lisbeth’s backstory. One surprising change was how the infamous rape scene was more graphic in this version (something which normally have been toned down in Hollywood) and there seemed to be more sex scenes between Lisbeth and Mikael here too. Overall I found there was a dramatic edge absent from this film which the Swedish one had and the investigation into the Vanger family felt less interesting and involved than in both the book and the Swedish film.

Casting wise I think Daniel Craig was an odd choice other than providing some fan service for the ladies. Mikael Blomkvist was supposed to be a middle aged, world worn but still enigmatic man – not a mid 40’s beefcake like Craig, who practically mumbled his way through this film and showed little personality in this role.

Rooney Mara did a good job in immersing herself into the role of Lisbeth as her predecessor Noomi Rapace did with the dieting, getting genuine piercings and so on and embodied much of Larsson’s Lisbeth in her own way as Rapace did, but I felt Mara was the colder and less rebellious of the two portrayals. Another minor gripe was how some of the actors were too young for their roles – Yorick van Wageningen as Nils Bjurman and Joely Richardson as Anita Vanger come to mind.

In conclusion The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes a few chances Hollywood rarely does which is nice to see and Fincher has delivered a serviceable adaptation of Larsson’s epic novel and I hope that is has galvanised audiences to either seek out the Swedish film or even check out the books, both of which are positive moves to make. However – and this should come as little surprise to anyone who knows me – my loyalty is still with the Swedish film and Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth. Close but no cigar as they say for this US remake.