The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
- Film Review
By Kamal Kalidasa
It must suck to be David Fincher. At the rate the Academy keeps snubbing him, year after year, any director of his calibre would’ve given up a long time ago. This is, of course, not to say he is after Oscar-gratification, but after Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac and the Social Network, none of which was good enough for the Academy, you’d think it was time the man got some real recognition. But apparently it’s not to be, and I’m not sure his latest work The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as amazing as it was, will help his cause in any real way (it clearly didn’t at the last Oscars; but I’m talking long-term).
Based on the blockbuster Swedish novel by Stieg Larsson and a remake of the original adaptation by director Niels Arden Oplev, Dragon Tattoo is a cyberpunk thriller that boldly explores themes of rape, misogyny, incest, Neo-Nazism and, to a lesser extent, ethical journalism, in a two-hour English-language Hollywood spectacle that, while engrossing, just falls short of the Swedish version, in terms of delivery and originality. Of course, there is only so much originality you can expect from a remake, but Fincher has failed to make this story his own – something he did to great success in the Social Network. And the occasional almost-shot-for-shot similarities don’t help.
Mild spoilers ahead…
The premise is simple yet intriguing. Investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just lost a libel case filed against him by crooked industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg). Having lost his credibility as a result, Mikael leaves Millennium, the news magazine he is co-editor of. Meanwhile, retired Swedish magnate Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) has hired Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a tattooed, pierced, bisexual and social-outcast computer hacker and brilliant researcher to do a background check on Mikael who he hopes to hire for an investigation of his own. Vanger approaches the reluctant Mikael with a promise of supplying him with dirt on Wennerström, and eventually hires his services to find out what happened to his grandniece Harriet who disappeared 40 years ago. Vanger is convinced that a member of his Nazi-loving, sexually deviant family is responsible, and won’t rest until he’s unveiled the truth.
If you’ve read the book, or seen the first film, you know that the mystery, as intriguing it is, is hardly what drives the story. It’s less to do with the plot, and more – if not all – to do with the character of Lisbeth, played with depressing perfection by Rooney Mara (which, incidentally, earned her a Best Actress nomination). Unlike Fincher, she has managed to make the role her own, in spite of Noomi Rapace’s breathtaking performance in the original. The way she carries herself is in perfect sync with everything her character represents. There is a rather unsettling anal-rape scene in which Mara outshines every single female lead currently working in Hollywood. She is not acting like a wronged social misfit. She IS a wronged, social misfit. You won’t believe this was the same girl who played Mark Zuckerberg’s love interest in the Social Network just a couple of years ago. That’s how good she is. She and Rapace will no doubt be the leading ladies of tomorrow.
Daniel Craig does a fairly convincing job of not being James Bond. He even manages to fake a Swedish accent. He’s put on a few pounds for the role and, even though his character is not given the same sense of urgency that the original managed to (in this one he doesn’t serve a prison statement, for whatever reason Fincher saw fit), he is more than commendable in this soon-to-be series. There are some solid performances from Christopher Plummer (Sound of Music), Robin Wright (Forrest Gump) and several other notable Hollywood and Swedish actors. Special mention should be made of Stellan Skarsgård who is great as Martin Vanger, the only seemingly sane man in the dynasty, and steals the show in every scene he is in.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent example of Hollywood trying to have the last word on an already successful international franchise. Fans of the original will tell you that this remake was unnecessary, considering the former was a already very well-made movie with a great cast and a brilliant script. However, David Fincher’s remagining of the story, while not completely original, has his fingerprints all over it. The violence, the sex, the romance are all his own. For example, the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael is a lot more awkward and formal in the book than it is in the movie. But you can’t blame Fincher for taking that road, and you will see why at the end of the film.
It’s a very good movie, and certainly one of the best from 2011. Did it deserve the Best Picture nomination it got? Definitely. Did it deserve to win, though? Probably not. I liked it a lot, however, and I’m sufficiently excited for the inevitable sequel.