The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
18 / 2011 / Thriller
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright, Christopher Plummer
Screenplay: Steven Zaillian, Stieg Larsson (novel) / Director: David Fincher
Plot: Set in Sweden, the story revolves around Mikael Blomkvist, a political journalist whose career is in tatters, having just lost a libel case to a huge business man. Soon after, he is approached by a large-scale industrialist entrepreneur, Henrik Vanger, who wants Blomkvist to help write his memoirs. It is soon apparent however, that Blomkvist’s real assignment is to investigate the 40-yeard-old murder of Vanger’s 16-year-old niece.
First of all, don’t do what this reviewer did, and consider yourself clever by watching the original Swedish film beforehand (and definitely not in the same 24-hour period!). Not that it would be detrimental to your health to do so. One wouldn’t even go as far to say that it stops you from enjoying this new incarnation. What it does do however, is prevent you from fully appreciating David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on its own terms.
Now, you could argue the same can be said of any remake or literary adaptation, and in most cases, you’d be right to say that. The big difference here however, if you please, is that the man behind the camera is David Fincher. Not just because it’s David Fincher (although for some, that would be reason enough), but rather, because he has delivered a remake which is more than capable of being judged on its own merit.
If nothing else, the material itself is a perfect fit for the director. For starters, there are more than a few nods towards his previous work (Se7en, Fight Club and The Social Network – to name a few!) scattered throughout this film. Second of all, his exploration of character is always done in such a pitch-perfect way, that you can sometimes forget you’re watching a thriller at all, and yet, at the same time, you are never completely removed from it. That said, given the key scenes of rape and torture that have been included like-for-like, this film is certainly not for everyone.
Given what was touched upon at the start, comparisons to Niels Arden Oplev’s original may be unfair, but they are also inevitable, so let’s get them out of the way. Before doing so however, it’s worth noting that to pit one against the other for superiority is pointless – both are extremely good, with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. A case in point, is the exploration of the different members of the Vanger family, where Blomkvist creates a family tree on the wall of his cottage. When scanning through each photo on the wall, the camera not only lingers on each one for longer in the original, but the slower translation (i.e. subtitles) gives you more time to put names to faces and therefore, follow Blomkvist’s investigation more fluidly. For the same reason, assigning a sense of place and ownership to each of the family residences on the Vanger estate is harder in the remake, because everything it inclined to move a little faster, through the absence of translation.
One of the positives of the remake is that the two lead characters are both somewhat younger in age (respectively). As such, the impact of Blomkvist’s spiralling career that much more poignant, because you feel that he has lost more and, by extension, stands to gain more by trying to rebuild his career. Craig’s presence in the film is solid, as is his performance as a man who has been visibly knocked by his public slaughtering. On the other hand, it’s his physicality that fails to convince you entirely. In a recent interview, Craig spoke of how his director did not feel that a ripped torso was fitting for a man who spends a lot of time behind a desk, so he filled up on jelly beans in order to fill out for the role. The result is… barely noticeable, and so when the cloths come off, the haunting figure of the super-spy is never far away; to say nothing of the film’s opening title sequence (akin to Marmite: you’ll either love it or hate it!).
Make no mistake though: the film is Mara’s for the taking. Her transformation (think back to her brief turn in The Social Network for context), let alone her performance, is nothing short of amazing. Although much more delicate than her Swedish counterpart, Mara’s is a portrayal that is equally as feral, damaged, and above all, fascinating to watch as anything we have ever seen, and will undoubtedly define her career for years to come.
A positive nod should also be given to the start-studded supporting cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright, Christopher Plummer and Joely Ricardson – none of whom can be considered weak links in this mighty chain.
A lot of bad things can be (and often are) said about remakes. However, it’s pretty safe to say that none of that applies here. For a lesson on how it should be done: look no further than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Kyle Buxton is an independent freelance film reviewer and blogger
Be sure to check out hid blog at: Reel Lighthouse – containing movie reviews, as well as other occasional film-related insights.