Stieg Larson’s Millennium Trilogy has sold millions of copies worldwide. The books nearly always seem to be in the paperback chart and almost everyone will have heard of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo regardless of whether they’ve read the story or seen the original film.
This was the case long before Sony came along with their Hollywood remake. With David Fincher directing, they probably hoped people would look past the fact that their decision to make another version of the first book in the trilogy is fuelled by arrogance and greed. Arrogance in the sense that is shows contempt for films not in the English language, and greed because they wanted a slice of a very fashionable cake that was already being clawed at by hungry fans.
So, is David Fincher’s version any good? Is it any better than Niels Arden Oplev’s superb 2009 hit? It’s actually generally fine, though rather flawed, and compared to the original it is the weaker film. If judged on its own merit, which requires one to momentarily forget the fact that it should not exist, it is a good-enough crime thriller. But it’s hard to do this, especially when you know it’s been done before, and so much better.
The film opens with a Bond-esque title sequence that is like witnessing a CGI-geek’s orgasm. Black oil, wires, computer keypads and curves of flesh all mix together with a weird remix of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song playing over the top of it. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the film and comes across as inventive but at the same time inappropriate and immature. Considering the film’s themes of rape and exploitation, this opening number seems to revel in the horrifically dark and brutal nature of the story a little too much.
I like to think of the plot as Wallander meets James Bond via Agatha Christie. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a journalist for a left-wing whistle-blowing magazine. After disgracing himself by printing facts about a billionaire criminal that turned out not to be facts at all, merely unsubstantiated rumours, he accepts the job of writing the memoirs of a rich businessman (Christopher Plummer). The memoirs form his official brief. The unofficial brief is to launch an in-depth investigation into the disappearance of his employer’s niece 40 years previously. This leads him to discover terrible secrets about a powerful family and unearth sick, sadistic sexual crimes towards women. In order to solve the mystery, he convinces a grungy troubled computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, to help him in his quest against some of the nastiest people in Sweden.
Salander is played by Rooney Mara, who worked with Fincher on The Social Network. Once again, I can only sing her praises while at the same time criticising. The role of the now famous anti-heroine was so brilliantly played by Noomi Rapace that I find it impossible to be that impressed with Mara’s attempt. It’s a good performance, but not a ground-breaking one. It’s already been done, and in a more believable and original way. Typically, Noomi Rapace (who is Swedish) was overlooked when it came to the Oscars, but Rooney Mara (who is American) has been given an nomination for Best Actress.
Daniel Craig doesn’t offer anything new as the crusading journalist. The most interesting thing about his performance is that he talks with an English accent. Nearly all the other actors, whether they are British or American, use Swedish accents; a technique that was also used in The Reader to denote German nationality. But Daniel is allowed to continue with his normal voice. It’s odd and very distracting.
The plotting also becomes rather clumsy, particularly when it departs from the original novel and makes up its own ending involving plot alterations that are bafflingly pointless.
However, on the plus side (and the reason for me keeping the film up in the 3 star bracket), the visual style of the movie is astoundingly good. Fincher knows how to give films a great look and feel and, leaving aside the ill-judged title sequence, the picture is very visually intelligent, manipulating the mood with subtle colour changes and high production values.
Although I already knew the story, Steven Zaillian’s screenplay still contains the gripping, driving power of Larsson’s writing, even if he does mess it up a bit towards the end. He doesn’t work wonders with the complex source material, but it’s serviceable enough.
If you have managed to avoid both the novel and the original (and far superior) film, David Fincher’s adaptation should work as a passable thriller. But instead of paying for a ticket to see this film, I would urge you to get the Blu-ray of the Swedish-language version, watch it, and then decide if you want to see an inferior American remake.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), directed by David Fincher, is distributed by Sony Pictures, Certificate 18.
*The post has been updated. Correction made to the spelling of the name of actress Noomi Rapace and the character she played.