The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2011.
Directed by David Fincher.
Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic and Geraldine James.
A magazine journalist and a troubled computer hacker team up to search for a woman who has been missing for forty years.
Ah, the Hollywood remake. Often maligned by anyone who’s seen the original film on which Hollywood has taken upon itself to remake for 100 times the original’s budget, they can be hit and miss. But this is David Fincher and he directed Se7en and Zodiac, so The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is bound to be an improvement… Right?
Let’s look at this film from two different angles; as a remake of Män som hatar kvinnor, the Swedish movie of 2009, and as a stand-alone film. I think on both fronts this new film is only a marginal success.
The original film was something of a surprise to me when I first saw it over 18 months ago. The brutality, violence, and grim, dark and depressing storyline was not what I had seen at the cinema from the usual Hollywood fare for a long time, and I thought ‘You’d never get that if it were an American production’. The star, Noomi Rapace, had a real energy about her and the character (that of Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the tattoo) was far from anything I’d seen before. It looked polished and professional and had a great production value for a country not known for its cinematic output.
Fast forward two years and Fincher’s version is, in my mind, no better than what I’d seen before. It has all the usual trademark Fincher shots and lighting that we’ve become accustomed to but none of terror, fear or sheer genius of the aforementioned Se7en or Zodiac. It’s fair to compare this film to those, unlike The Social Network or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; those saw Fincher go in a different direction, but TGWTDT sees him go back to familiar territory but on autopilot. I assumed (having not read anything about this version) that the much publicised screenplay from Steven Zaillian would do what most remakes do and change the original to set it in the US, and with a reported budget of $100 million I again assumed we’d be treated to something a bit special. What we have is the same story in the same setting but with different actors. In my mind, this is a pointless exercise – why remake a film without at least trying to imprint something new on it? Yes, it looks good and is a perfectly functional piece of work, but this is the minimum you’d expect from the players involved.
Moreover, I believe this film is too easy for Fincher to make at this stage in his career and the script gives him nothing to make improvements on the perfectly watchable original. If this were 1995 and he was looking to follow on from Se7en, perhaps this would be a good film to make, but not now and not after he has cemented himself as the best at what he does in the business. Once a director hits the heights he has, I expect nothing but the very best, or at least attempts to move away from what we know they can do expertly well.
As a standalone film and forgetting having seen the original, TGWTDT remains a brutal, violent, and grim, dark and depressing story, but crucially it’s not a story I’m gripped by nor does it have characters which captivate me. Essentially, the ‘unique selling point’ of the story is Lisbeth Salander and her dark past and uncertain present; yet I found her (in both films versions) too far removed from what I want from a heroine. I can’t root for her because she hardly speaks and I don’t know anything about her other than she’s a bit mental and doesn’t shy away from a fight. Despite what happens to her, I don’t feel sympathy in the way I should for a woman who goes through such ordeals. Moreover, Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist character played by Daniel Craig, is someone I’m interested in because I found him a more believable character with something really at stake in his life. However, the film takes far too long for get Lisbeth and Mikael together on screen and by the time they do half the film has gone and their relationship is built over too short a time on screen to fully buy into. Both Craig and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth deliver fine work in their roles, but the story is, to me, not gripping or intriguing enough to warrant having two main characters fighting for screen time.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is by no means a bad film, but it’s not exciting or thrilling, or even disturbing and terrifying, and it’s far from cinematic, which for a Fincher fan such as I am, is a hard to take.