Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is undoubtedly very popular his first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (originally entitled Women Who Hate Men), sold over 65 million copies and around 9 million people have seen the Swedish thriller, so an opportunity for an American production company to pointlessly remake the film is an opportunity not to be missed.
After failing to win a case against businessman Hans-Erik Wennerström disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist must pay 600,000 Swedish Krona (about 87,000 USD) in damages, his career in journalism is under threat. However, he is contacted by Dirch Frode (Steven Berkoff) who informs Mikael that Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) is in need of him to solve the mystery of his missing (Vanger believes killed) niece. After Mikael finds out that background checks were done upon him before he was hired for the role (the hacker gained access to private records), Mikael wishes to meet this computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), and asks her to be his research partner (blackmails her to be his research partner).
Quite a few foreign films get the American remake, the most recent major Swedish movie to be remade for American audiences was Let the Right One In, and more common than not the original was by far the superior film, so people looked on the English language remake (or re-adaptation) of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with trepidation but with David Fincher signed on the film did have some promise. Fincher and his screenwriter Steven Zaillian are rather loyal to the source material (diverting occasionally from the source material to change parts of the story) creating a tense, excellently executed thriller of rape, lies and murder. The book contains many dark themes, and Fincher’s film emulates them exactly with the violent images on screen and Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography captures the gloomy, sparse and snowy landscapes of Northern Sweden expertly. The story itself is tense, brilliantly executed and gripping, a very powerful and graphic tale, and one in which Fincher shows in its full grisly detail, not hiding away from the book's controversial themes.
Fincher’s film is smartly written and directed with aplomb also the film is edited with style but the superb performances from the whole cast involved (despite some of the shaky Swedish accents) really do heighten proceedings considerably. The best performance comes from Rooney Mara (who shot to fame with her memorable cameo role in The Social Network) who plays Lisbeth Salander, branded psychotic by the state; Lisbeth has had a violent past, a past that creates the person who she is today. Salander is a complex individual with negative feelings, maybe even hateful feelings, towards men (especially towards men who abuse women) as she has a history of being abused by them. Mara’s performance is an imposing, engaging and fascinating one. Daniel Craig is satisfactory as Mikael Blomkvist but he, rather generously, allows Mara to steal the limelight; Craig’s performance is strong and rugged but lacking somewhat in the emotional department. The supporting cast also did a cracking job; Christopher Plummer is impressive and Stellan Skarsgard is as magnificent as ever, but some roles are rather underwritten. The credits sequence can be seen (as one Radiotimes reviewer has noted) as a gothic James Bond, the soundtrack that accompanies it is exciting. It’s just a shame that it isn’t Led Zeppelin but a cover version, however it still sounds terrific.
Now we get onto some of the issues, the American remake (or re-adaptation) is tense, brilliantly acted, well written, edited majestically and manages to (mostly) justify the running time but the Swedish version is also tense, brilliantly acted, well written and edited majestically but better paced as, in Fincher’s film, the involvement of a business deal between Wagner’s company and Millennium (the magazine which Blomkvist used to work for), and Blomkvist’s relationship with his co-worker, though it may be loyal to the source material, slowed down proceedings and just isn’t interesting enough. So the American remake does what the Swedish original does but the Swedish original does everything better (with the exception of the editing and possibly the direction). Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo makes some plot changes but these plot changes are not necessarily for the better, also Fincher drags the ending out needlessly. So Fincher’s remake (re-adaptation) is not by any means a scene by scene remake but I still fail to see the point of it as the Swedish version is the superior version and already fits the bill perfectly as an adaptation of Larsson’s book.
Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a visually brilliant, breathless and bleak film that features a dominating, Oscar nomination worthy performance by Rooney Mara. It is edgy, riveting, and the harrowing visuals may prove too much for some. Yet the film is mostly well paced, with a few scenes and an ending that drags out proceedings but overall the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is efficient filmmaking, however Se7en, The Social Network, Zodiac and maybe Fight Club are all better works of Fincher’s filmography. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is good but why not just watch the superior Swedish version?