Stieg Larsson's posthumously published "Millennium" trilogy has taken the world by storm, with the series having been translated into 30 languages and selling 63 million copies. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," the Swedish-language film adaptation of the first book, was released in 2009, and within a year, the movie was available practically worldwide. Hollywood, not content to leave well enough alone, decided to create an English version of the film. Those who were impressed by Noomi Rapace's performance as the titular character have wondered why an English remake was necessary. The David Fincher production is good in its own right, but it won't change anyone's stance.
The film starts off slowly as you're introduced to the key players. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) of political magazine "Millennium" has been found guilty of libel against billionaire businessman, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, and has been ordered to pay. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) is the former CEO of the Vanger Corporation, and he's been troubled by the murder of his great-niece, Harriet, over 40 years ago. Henrik's assistant, Dirch Frode (Steven Birkhoff), commissions Milton Security for a background check on Blomkvist, which is assigned to Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Frode contacts Blomkvist to offer him the job of solving the Vanger murder mystery. Since the Vanger estate is located on the remote Hedeby Island and Blomkvist wants to get out of town, he accepts. Henrik also promises to provide him with solid evidence of Wennerstrom's wrongdoings.
If I had to pinpoint the key problem with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," it's that the film tries to strike a balance between being faithful to the source material and making it palatable for a subtitle-averse audience. The film is still set in Sweden, and although the cast consists of American, British and Canadian actors, as well as a few others — including Stellan Skarsgard, possibly the only Swedish actor who wasn't in the original films — they speak English with a Swedish tinge. Rather than making this easier for North American audiences to digest, it's sometimes difficult to get past the odd cadence to decipher the words. Everyone pronounces the protagonist's name as it sounds in Swedish, "Mik-hel" for Mikael. They try so hard to be authentic while they're all speaking English; you can't dream up this kind of situational hilarity. They should've set the screenplay somewhere in North America, on a similarly cold, remote island that houses a similarly rich, messed-up family to explain all of the English-speaking actors. The best way to stay true to the source material would've been to set the film in Sweden and have Swedish actors, but since that's already been done, this strange hybrid effort seems like a waste.
Sometimes, the sequence of scenes seems illogical, as if it were done for the sake of being different from the original. In the 2009 film, Salander is notified via a phone call that her guardian has changed; it's clinical but straightforward. In this film, she waits at a café for someone who doesn't show. She goes to the person's apartment and finds him passed out on the floor. She asks about his condition at the hospital and finally divulges that he's her guardian. Before this point, the audience doesn't even know that she's a ward. In the original film, Salander and Blomqvist drove everywhere together while they conducted their research. In this remake, Salander and Blomqvist are separate during the research phase, with him interviewing people while she speeds around on her motorcycle to locate cold case files. The shared time makes it easier to believe that she slowly learns to trust him, but the constant separation makes this tougher to believe.
Taken as a film in its own right, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is good. The plot is intriguing, and the actors do a good job. The settings look great, and the film doesn't shy away from controversial or sensitive topics. The direction is good. Fincher, who has worked on dark material like "Seven" and "Fight Club," knows just how to film a scene to build suspense. There were numerous moments when you could hear the theater audience holding its collective breath.
As the Hollywood actor who most resembles Swedish thespian Michael Nyqvist, Craig is the natural casting choice. In the book, Blomqvist is a womanizer, so if there were ever a chance for Craig to channel James Bond, this would be it. Instead, he plays it up (or down, as it were) as a bookish crusading reporter. Mara nails the cool aloofness well. Salander is an antisocial outsider, but they've made her a little bit too "other" here, to the point that it's sometimes difficult to look at her. She gets an A for effort, but she doesn't have the easy, raw sex appeal that Rapace brought to the role.
As for the soundtrack, Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross, who collaborated on the Oscar-winning soundtrack for "The Social Network," reunite for this film. It sets the tone well from the opening credits, and it's already receiving accolades, but it seems odd that Reznor is nominated for "Best Original Score" when the soundtrack most famously contains a remix of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."
Although the screenwriter, director and actors may have had good intentions with this adaptation of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," it doesn't make anyone forget about the 2009 version. On the contrary, it makes you want to watch the original again, even though the film does not have feel-good material that bears repeated viewing. Those who never saw the Swedish film could do worse than watching this English version, but if given the choice, look for the Swedish iteration in your Netflix Instant Queue.
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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