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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

A 2011 movie directed by David Fincher.

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She's Not as Interesting as Her Swedish-Speaking Counterpart

  • Dec 22, 2011
Star Rating:

Watching the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was actively engaged with its dual storylines, but I also found myself pondering which of the two was the more important. Now that David Fincher has made an English-language remake, I find myself pondering what went wrong. Here is a mystery thriller so cold, so distant, and so lacking in energy that it feels neither mysterious nor thrilling. It follows the plot of the original film fairly closely, and yet it makes a number of small changes that drastically affect its credibility. I’m also stumped by the curious decision to retain the Swedish setting. If you have gone to the trouble of casting English-speaking actors, it seems only fitting that you should change the story’s location to somewhere more appropriate, say America or Britain.
Adapted from the novel by Stieg Larsson, the title is a description of goth chick Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an emotionally walled-off computer hacker who works for a security company. In the original film, we got only scraps of her back story, and yet just enough was given to pique our interest. We were challenged to read her. Who was she? What had she gone through? What led up to a disturbing watershed moment seen only in flashback? In this remake, her back story doesn’t even amount to crumbs. That watershed moment is altogether removed, as is a significant chunk of her family history. Because of this, we’re no longer compelled to probe her mind, to try and understand why she is the way she is. All we see is a girl in her early twenties in serious need of an attitude adjustment.

She was hired to investigate a former reporter turned magazine publisher named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who lost a libel case against a powerful billionaire. Although he must pay a serious amount in damages, he insists that he was set up. Lisbeth is inclined to agree; her investigative work turned up nothing incriminating. Not long after the trial, Mikael is hired by a man named Dirch Frode (Steven Berkoff) on behalf of his employer, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the former CEO of a family industry. Now retired on a family-owned island off the mainland, he asks two things of Mikael: To write a memoir about the Vanger clan and to investigate the case of his great-niece, Harriet, who disappeared in 1966 when she was only a teenager. Henrik is convinced she was murdered, and that her killer is a member of his family, with whom he does not get along.
Needing an assistant, Mikael is directed towards Lisbeth, who has just worked her way of a particularly nasty situation with her new guardian, a sadistic sexual pervert (Yorick van Wageningen) who kept strict control of her finances. As she and Mikael dig deeper into the mystery, they must make sense of a series of numbers Harriet wrote in a notebook, all of which are paired with initials. What do they mean? How do they connect to a series of murders spread across time and distance, all involving young women? And in what way does Henrik’s family factor in? Watching the original film, I anxiously awaited the moment the mystery would be solved. That’s because, as contrived as it was, there was at least the sense that the filmmakers were interested in their own material. The same cannot be said about this new film. There’s no urgency about it.

I think much of the blame rests on the updated screenplay by Steven Zaillian, which awkwardly intertwines dark and twisted scenarios with an undercurrent of dry wit. When Henrik first meets Mikael, for example, we find that the former is almost jovial – not at all appropriate given his sad situation. Certain scenes from the original film were intense, and yet they always felt as if they were character driven. That’s not the case here; most of the intense scenes, including when Lisbeth spontaneously decides to have sex with Mikael, are overproduced, as if the intention was to be sensational. The most glaring misfire is the inclusion of a stray cat. I don’t need to spell out what happens to it. I will say, however, that this plot device is so overused that it has long since ceased to be symbolic. Now it’s just cruel and disgusting.
Little touches, such as Mikael’s affair with his magazine coworker (Robin Wright) and his relationship with his religious teenage daughter (Josefin Asplund), contribute absolutely nothing to the story apart from a surplus of characters. And then there’s the ending, which is really more of an epilogue as it involves events unrelated to the case of Harriet Vanger. In the original film, it was a brief couple of scenes that tied up a few loose ends. Here, it goes on much longer than it should. I’m usually the first to give remakes the benefit of the doubt. It’s certainly not my style to make endless comparisons between old and new versions of the same story. But in the case of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I just can’t help myself. I’ll make this easy on you: See the original instead of the remake. Quite simply, the original is better.


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July 19, 2012
I have to disagree almost completely here. I really liked this take on the "Dragon Tattoo" story. Although I like the Swedish version a bit more, I enjoyed the different perspective that this one offered for Lisbeth. Here, she's a little more emotionally unpredictable than she was when she was portrayed by Noomi Ropace, who for the record I thought was a little better than Mara, who was excellent. Mara's Lisbeth could be easily broken, as seen by the cold ending; which I thought was sort of resonant.
July 21, 2012
At least you're disagreeing with me on the basis of the film itself. On my own site, I received a couple of comments detailing my failure to see that the remake was more faithful to the original novel. I hate comments like that. My job is to review the movie on the screen, not to make comparisons between movies and books. And nowhere does it say that I actually have to read the source material in order to see the adaptation. Movies and books are not the same.
December 22, 2011
I agree with your points since I saw them as well. I knew you wouldn't like this one after I saw you review the Swedish film first. Lisbeth this time around is more 'talkative' and she isn't as deeply layered and emotionally complexed as she seemed in the Swedish film. I liked this one since it was entertaining and sexier, but I liked the Swedish film more. It also bothered me that she changed some scenes. (I should've rewatched the Swedish film before I saw this) Nice review.
December 22, 2011
On my site, I got a long-winded comment from a person who not only thought I was wrong but also went on to explain that Fincher's remake was actually more faithful to the novel, and therefore better. What are we going to do with these people? Why don't they see that I'm reviewing a film and not a book? And why do they think that a faithful adaptation automatically makes it the best possible version? Sometimes, changes to a story can actually make it better on film. The Swedish version is proof of this.
December 23, 2011
I can see that. It was a little more faithful, but the mood and tone was a little off imho. I am with you, I do like my thrillers more raw and edgy....I don't like them neat and clean. I agree that some changes can make a film better. There is one other movie that is better than the book..
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review by . December 22, 2011
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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A murder mystery rife with suspense, scandal, sexual abuse, and some supremely intriguing characters,The Girl with the Dragon Tattoois an excellently crafted film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's equally fascinating book of the same name. Larsson's book was also the basis of a 2009 Swedish film (also with the same title), and while the Swedish film was good, this American version is far superior, thanks to fantastic cinematography and livelier pacing that results in a constant, electric tension that drives every second of the movie. The breathtaking footage of a snowy, remote island in Sweden thoroughly exudes bitter cold, and the attention to the smallest details, like the whistling of the wind through a door left ajar, makes the hairs on the back of viewers' necks absolutely prickle. Like the book, the film is long (158 minutes), there's an abundance of dialogue that is never awkward and always efficient, and there are plenty of false endings. The suspense and the intricacy of the mystery are stellar, and even viewers who know the story well will find themselves sucked into the riddle being investigated by journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). The casting is great, as are the performances of all the key actors, but by far the best thing about this film is Rooney Mara, who is utterly believable as the incredibly strong, extremely disturbed Lisbeth Salander, Blomkvist's unlikely assistant. Mara's performance is chillingly real and completely ...
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Director: David Fincher
Release Date: December 20, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: Mar. 20, 2012
Runtime: 158 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment
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