Even before last year’s Academy Award nominations for The Social Network, David Fincher established himself as one of the most versatile and entertaining directors in Hollywood. Whether doing a live action fairy tale like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or a dark satire like Fight Club, the projects Fincher chooses are varied, but they are normally worth your time. So while remaking the 2009 Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (based on the popular Swedish novel of the same name) is a complete divergence from last year’s The Social Network, Fincher once again gives his audience a well-crafted and engaging film.
The film centers around a 40 year old murder mystery. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to investigate the disappearance of his great niece Harriet. To aid in his search, Blomkvist turns to an unorthodox researcher named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who is recommended by Henrik after she did the background check on Blomkvist for him.
Blomkvist is willing to take on the case and to spend a year on a remote island investigating it because he’s looking to lay low and to rehab his image after losing a high profile libel case filed by Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg), a CEO who Blomkvist wrote a scathing article about. Henrik also promises Blomkvist that he has information that can help him take down Wennerström, who once worked for Vanger’s company. Lisbeth only takes on cases that interest her, but she’s willing to come on board once it becomes clear that there’s a lot more to this one than just the disappearance of Harriet.
While the audience mostly follows Blomkvist, it quickly becomes clear that Lisbeth is the true hero of the story. And she’s quite an unconventional one. Lisbeth is a rape victim who is a ward of the state, having been deemed mentally incompetent due to her instability. But she is also an expert hacker able to get information no one else can (after reading her file on him, Blomkvist tells her that she knows him better than his own friends do) and she’s an incredibly strong and fiercely independent woman determined to never let herself become a victim again.
Fincher did a great job casting Rooney Mara to play the part. Not only is she strikingly beautiful, but Mara gives a performance filled with quiet intensity. Lisbeth is a woman of few words – slow to trust people or to reveal too much of herself – but the way Mara play the character, you get a sense that all these complex emotions are bubbling just below the surface. Also, by casting an unknown actress, the audience has no preconceived notions about the character. Unraveling Lisbeth becomes just as fascinating as unraveling the Vanger family mystery.
Daniel Craig is quite good as Blomkvist. And the rest of the cast is solid as well. Christopher Plummer injects a lot of personality into Henrik, who must convey a lot of information to the audience in a limited amount of screen time. Stellan Skarsgård, who is good in everything he’s in, gives a memorable performance as Martin Vanger, Harriet’s brother. Yorick van Wageningen gives a very good, though incredibly disturbing, performance as Bjurman, the social worker assigned to Lisbeth.
Fincher once again turned to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the team who did the music for The Social Network, for the soundtrack to the film. They do a great job adding dramatic tension with their frantic electronic score. The music gives an urgency to the film that helps drive the story forward.
From top to bottom, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a well-crafted movie with a great story. My only real issue is whether or not it actually needed to be made in the first place. Stieg Larsson’s novel was already turned into a highly-regarded Swedish film in 2009. In retelling the story, Fincher chose to stay faithful to the novel, keeping the story set in Sweden. The characters (except for Blomkvist, who is presumably a British transplant in this version) all have Swedish accents, but speak in English.
It would have made more sense for Fincher to Americanize the film further, setting it on a remote island in Nantucket or somewhere like that. It could have easily been about a Swedish family that immigrated to the United States years ago. There’s nothing in the story that requires it to take place in Sweden. Setting it in America would have helped to set this version apart from the original, helping to justify its existence. But instead, it’s essentially the same story, but told without subtitles. (Then again, if Hollywood felt the need to remake Death at a Funeral, a British film where the characters all speak English, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that they remade this film as well.)
Whether this version of the film needs to exist or not, it is nonetheless a beautifully made and well told version of the story. Thanks to solid performances all around, a great soundtrack and the confident direction of Fincher, it’s an incredibly satisfying film.
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