Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Remaking a recent fan favourite may not curry any favour with the purists, but the presence of David Fincher ensures that this second adaptation of the modern Swedish thriller brings its own brand of slick grit to the familiar adventures of the girl with unusual hobbies.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Final poster (Australia)

Director: David Fincher

Runtime: 158 minutes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher PlummerStellan Skarsgård

Distributor: Sony


Rating: Better Than Average Bear (?)

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Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Stieg Larsson was a Swedish political activist and journalist, exposing the activities of right-wing extremist groups. When he died of a heart attack in 2004, conspiracy theorists immediately thought the worst. Yet his story did not end there.

Amidst the debate over his estate, three unpublished thriller novels emerged. The first of these, Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women), became a hit in its homeland and was smash under its international title of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Along with the sequels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, his Millennium Trilogy has sold over 27 million copies worldwide. Now, for those who find subtitles challenging, David Fincher has adapted the novel for a second time in English.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), publisher of Millennium magazine, is convicted of libel against a crooked billionaire industrialist. Shortly afterward, he is approached by the elderly Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer), the ex-CEO of a large company and haunted by the disappearance of his great niece decades before. Always suspecting murder, Vagner hires Blomkvist to find new evidence in this very cold case. Unbeknownst to Blomkvist, Vagner had previously had Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) do a background check on him. As the two deal with their own problems, their destinies become intertwined and they begin to work together. Uncovering more than they could have possibly imagined, could there be more to this rich family with a Nazi past than there first appears?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Amidst cries of outrage over the audacity to remake this story, let’s remember that the original film wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. A non-confrontational walk on the wild side for the baby boomers at best, Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 version was ultimately Midsomer Murders with tits. Yet from the stunning opening sequence, Fincher’s version is visually arresting, a stylistic piece filled with dripping black goo and twisted human bodies. Set to a reworking of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, it harks back to Fincher’s days as a music video director, and immediately signals that the always envelope-pushing filmmaker is going to leave his own stamp on the tale.

[quote_right]”More of a stylistic remake than a new interpretation of the material, Fincher takes what we know and makes it prettier…”[/quote_right]Recasting Lisbeth Salander was an unenviable task, as Noomi Rapace is one of the real finds of the original trilogy. Yet Mara embodies Salander in her own fashion, an accented cyberpunk that seems ever edgier than Rapace’s original. She’s come a long way since she last recreated someone else’s role in A Nightmare on Elm Street. One Fincher’s quirks is that all of the cast, with the exception of Daniel Craig, adopt Swedish accents in lieu of speaking Swedish. That would require subtitles, and we already have one of those. He just gets away with it. Craig makes a much more charismatic lead than Michael Nyqvist, but then again so would a flattened cod. Indeed, Craig’s presence overcomes much of the flat feeling the original film gave as a result of Nyqvist’s non-presence.

More of a stylistic remake than a new interpretation of the material, Fincher takes what we know and makes it prettier, and also more manageable. The darker elements are all still there, dealing with rape, incest and bloody murder in fairly confrontational ways. Yet somehow Fincher never revels in it, choosing to use those elements as means of progressing the story rather than grinding it to a literally bleeding halt. Coupled with Jeff Cronenworth’s stunning cinematography, using elements of the look of Fincher’s own The Social Network and “The Perfect Drug” music video, Fincher makes the ugliness palatable.

The material is still uneven, perhaps the fault of the source, and lining up a string of occasionally confusing characters still feels like a parlour-room murder mystery at times. Yet Fincher’s experience with the macabre side of the human mind, and a pitch-perfect score from the Oscar-winning team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, turns this into more of an event than it could have been, and lingers long enough in the brain to encourage second go at sequel The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Still unnecessary, and at times uneven, Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo largely gives the familiar tale a glossy new coat, but it is a beautifully ugly and more accessible one.