The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Reviewed by Dario Llinares.

Director David Fincher
Length 158 mins
Certificate 18 / R
Rating *****-----
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 2

Photo from the article Trailer.

Any viewing of David Fincher’s adaptation/remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will unavoidably be compromised by one’s relationship to the ‘source’ material. The conventional, and highly clichéd, wisdom is that derivatives degrade through translation. I’ve always thought it rather lazy criticism to suggest a remake is never as good as original, or a film will never live up to the successful novel upon which it is based. All culture is derivative in some way, and acknowledging this should not preclude judging a film on its own merits.

In this case, I had not read the Stieg Larsson bestseller but had seen the 2009 film directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Thus, upon approaching Fincher’s English language version I was determined not to allow simple comparison to be the main criteria for my assessment. As I was watching, however, I realised that this would be impossible. My thoughts about the film (positive and negative) were invariably filtered through my knowledge of the Swedish predecessor. Whether this is my own failing or an inevitable consequence of spectatorship’s implicitly referential nature I’m not sure. Either way, I found my overarching dissatisfaction with the remake stemmed from differences that I felt compromised the story’s core themes and characters, which had been the strengths of the original.

The film’s plot focuses on investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) whose reputation has been undermined by a successful libel case against him. He is subsequently offered a job by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), head of a powerful but dysfunctional family-run corporation, to search for Vanger’s great-niece Harriet, who disappeared some thirty-six years earlier. Unknown to Blomkvist, Vanger had employed the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to investigate the journalist’s own background. When Blomkvist realises Salander’s talents for research, computer hacking and surveillance, he asks her to help him with the investigation.

The complexities of the subsequent narrative at times lack clarity, and I felt this was due to rather uneven pacing. Certain sections are precise and deliberate, yet at other times events and plot details are rushed. I felt particularly that the final half hour was crammed together despite the 2hour 40mins running time. In the original film, by contrast, the somewhat convoluted plot is secondary to the stark yet fascinating study of the highly complex (and atypical) female character, Lisbeth Salander (played in the original by Noomi Rapace). Rooney Mara does a good job of adapting to Lisbeth’s physical characteristics whilst also imbuing the character with potency, intelligence and a vulnerability that alludes to the damage she has suffered. However, I feel she is softened in various ways. Particularly with regards to a more normative construction sexual identity and her relationship with Blomqvist - a theme I will explore further in my Alternate Take (to follow). In the original Lisbeth and Blomkvist do have a relationship, but this is always on her terms - she initiates sex and afterwards leaves to sleep alone - and there is never any sense that Salander is conforming to expected conventions of femininity or heterosexuality. Fincher, however, redefines the dynamic to comply much more closely with those conventions, which I didn’t find credible.

These subtle changes may have been designed to make the film more palatable to a mainstream audience, but in that case it seems strange that the graphic depiction of sexual violence is retained. The casting of Daniel Craig was another problematic issue. He does eschew the Bond machismo, providing instead a kind of solid, stoic neutrality, but his unchanged accent was a huge distraction - particularly because the rest of the (English and American) cast effected a kind of general Scandinavian twang. Could Craig not offer a convincing enough attempt at this? Whatever the reason, the result was that I was unable to see the character for the actor. All in all, this is a very glossy and efficient remake from a director with aesthetic flair, and on its own terms offers a satisfying cinematic experience. Yet I was never able to shake the spectre of an earlier version of the same material, and that undoubtedly shaped what became a rather flat viewing experience.

This review was published on December 30, 2011.

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