The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)


Remakes are tricky business. The rules have been thrown out the window, but back in the day the rule of thumb was that you waited long enough a) for people to have forgotten about the original, b) for people to have properly digested, processed, and internalized the original enough to dream up an interesting reinterpretation, or c) at least until the next generation (i.e., the next graduating class of film school) comes along with fresh eyes and a new perspective on the story. David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a 2011 remake of a 2009 TV miniseries based on a 2005 novel, of course, satisfies none of these rules, but that’s okay because it’s David Fincher, right?

Sooooo, this is the tattoo everyone is talking about.

To be honest, Fincher is currently only batting about .300 for me – great in baseball, not so much in movies. Not being completely in love with Fincher’s style of moviemaking, I was actually relieved that, to my eye and ear, other than the opening credits sequence, the pounding and rather relentless soundtrack and a predilection for orange nighttime lighting, he keeps his personal stamp (meaningless CGI “trick shots”, copious tilt-shift lenses, etc.) in check…which only raises the question of why he bothered to make this movie in the first place.

Could Fincher and/or screenwriter Steven Zaillian at least have attempted to “Americanize” the story by re-setting it in, for example, the Deep South, or Prince Edward Island, or any other remote-ish community? This movie takes place in Sweden and all the characters are undoubtedly Swedish, yet everyone (conveniently) speaks all English all the time, albeit (inconveniently) with Swedish accents. The Swedish language undoubtedly exists in this universe, as the automated “out of service” telephone operator is bilingual, as are the various flashes of newspapers and magazines we are shown – and yet whenever there is any particular text highlighted, it is always in English. I know this sort of thing will not bother the majority of the movie-going audience. Perhaps nearly the same percentage of people who will not see a movie just because it has subtitles and stars actors that they have not seen before.

Completely ignoring the original Dragon Tattoo for a moment and taking Fincher’s version on its own, I actually enjoyed it. The story is complex and doesn’t dumb, tone, or even slow itself down for the audience. Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), patriarch of a super-rich and super-corrupt family of old-money industrialists, to investigate the long-unsolved murder of his niece Harriet, whom Vanger is certain was murdered by one of his own family. In his investigation, Blomkvist is eventually aided by the titular girl who has a tattoo of a dragon, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) who, to put it mildly, has problems (and, for a while, an entire movie) of her own. Although the mystery is eventually linked to a nationwide (and decades-spanning) case of serial murder, Harriet’s case essentially boils down to a classic “closed room” mystery, where you have a finite set of suspects and circumstances. No spoilers here, but once Blomkvist (and the audience) are introduced to the suspects, anyone who has ever seen a Columbo movie can…well, if you know what I’m talking about, you know what I’m talking about.

But like most good mysteries, the story isn’t all about who did it, but also how the investigators figure it out. In this regard, Dragon Tattoo‘s mystery plays out well – Fincher certainly knows his serial killer territory, and is actually able to make research (the majority of “real” detective work, especially in cold cases) seem quite sexy. Unfortunately, while the entire epilogue sequence is true to the novel, it goes on far too long for the movie – once the main mystery has been solved/resolved, you kind of just want them to get on with it.

Epilogue aside, Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo isn’t bad – it’s well told, nicely shot and solidly acted (Mara in particular is a nice surprise) but in the end feels just a bit too “done-that” (even if you’ve never seen or even heard of the original), just missing that certain edge that would make it a “must see”. Anyone approaching this story for the first time may leave the theatre rather mystified at what all the fuss is about, unless all the hype leads them to fill in those blanks with the movie going on inside their own heads (see: Oldboy).

As for the very last scene, unless I’m reading either the book or this movie completely wrong, Fincher and Zaillian remove a layer of ambiguity to Salander’s character in a way that I’m sure they think gives her added depth but to me actually undoes much of the groundwork that made her so compelling to begin with. Salander is honey badger, not honey bear.

Posted on December 27, 2011, in Film Review and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. You thought this was a remake of the original film? See, I took it as a retelling of the book. Sort of like the 100 film versions of A Christmas Carol or Huckleberry Finn. Of course I haven’t seen the original Swedish film, but have read the book.

  2. excellent review. HONEY BADGER! nice!

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