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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

December 21, 2011
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Niels Arden Oplev’s Swedish adaptation of the kickoff of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series became an international sensation, but David Fincher’s American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adds his own style, along with the production values that come with the budget he commands. The story is tightened with few sacrifices — the sequences I thought surely must have been cut to achieve an R rating are still present, and pretty much unchanged — and Fincher pays respect to Oplev while making the film his own.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is the publisher of the Swedish political magazine Millennium, or he was until he was convicted of libel against financier Hans-Erik Wennerström. He transfers control to his co-publisher — and lover — Erika Berger (Robin Wright) just as he is contacted out of nowhere by a lawyer (Steven Berkoff) representing the wealthy Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer).

Henrik is nearing the end of his life, and he needs Mikael’s help in solving a forty-year-old mystery: the murder of his young niece, Harriet (Moa Garpendal). In form, it’s basically a closed-room mystery; the whole family occupies an island about four hours north of Stockholm by train, and the only bridge to or from the mainland was blocked by an accident on the day Harriet disappeared. Mikael is given a generous salary and access to all the files Henrik has compiled over the years, and the chance to meet and interview the rest of the mutually-backbiting Vanger clan: Henrik’s crazy Nazi brother, Harald (Per Myrberg); the current Vanger industries CEO, Martin (Stellan Skarsgård); all the way to Harriet’s cousin Anita (Joely Richardson) who took the intramural hatred far enough to escape to London and not even talk to the rest of the family for decades.

Along the way, Mikael enlists the aid of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the countercultural hacker who had performed the background investigation on Mikael himself before Henrik’s offer was extended. And Lisbeth brings in a sordid history of her own, to say the least.

About which: we see all the contemporary parts of her story, but we lose almost all of the flashback; I’m actually of two minds on this. On the one hand, the flashbacks helped flesh out Lisbeth’s character, but, on the other hand, not a great deal. She may not be the typical female lead, but it takes a great effort to deny that she’s not still a different male fantasy. Her one significant interaction with another woman is all but wordless, and serves more to titillate and to give yet another example of how she’s so unusual. I know that it was largely based on her popularity that the original two sequels did so well, but she’s really not the strongest part of the story.

And, in fact, she wasn’t even the titular character to begin with. Larsson’s original novel was Män som hatar kvinnor or “Men Who Hate Women”. It’s this theme of misogyny with which Lisbeth’s story resonates in the present, and with which her and Mikael’s investigations into Harriet’s story resonate in the past. There’s plenty left in Fincher’s version of Lisbeth’s story to do justice to this theme, even without the flashbacks.

That said, Mara absolutely owns every scene in which she appears, and I’d put her performance ahead of Noomi Rapace’s original. Unfortunately, I can’t quite make the same comparison between Daniel Craig’s performance and Michael Nyqvist’s original. He’s decent enough, but it’s a pretty standard appearance for Craig, with little of the nuance and growth that Nyqvist brought out.

Any American adaptation may end glossing over some particularly Swedish subtleties in the original, for all I can tell. In fact, I’d say it’s altogether likely. A Swedish friend of mine once insisted that no matter how closely I listened nor how many times I tried I could never quite pronounce his name just right, nor for that matter could any American. The same, I suspect, is true here: if you’re dead-set on pitch-perfection you can only ever be disappointed; Fincher has refined and improved on the original, even if he’s rendering it with his own accent.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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