The unfortunate but inevitable consequence of trying to convert a phenomenally successful novel for the big screen, after someone else has already – recently in this case – attempted to do the same thing, is that your audience might have not one but two sets of preconceived ideas of how the film should look, sound and feel. Sadly, although David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The is certainly an adequate attempt, it doesn’t measure up to the Niels Arden Oplev original.
When investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is sued by a billionnaire industrialist and loses, he considers giving up control of his news magazine Millennium and going into hiding. After he is approached by a reclusive old man (Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger) to investigate the decades old disappearance of a teenage family member, however, he will be drawn into a mystery that might threaten even his own life. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) has her own problems, with the illness of her state-sponsored guardian meaning she will have to adjust to her new guardian’s alternative approach to the role.
There isn’t anything particularly wrong with Fincher’s take on the story, and it could be argued that some of the choices made in writing and direction are superior to those made in the 2009 Swedish version. The casting of Craig and Mara in the lead roles is fair, although it is often hard to shake the dissonance between Mara’s perfect complexion and her character’s lifestyle. It often seems Mara is playing dress-ups rather than inhabiting the role of The Girl – certainly, Noomi Rapace looks more like Salander than Mara does, but this also could be simply a case of being first to stake out that ground. The story is changed only to degrees, and it remains to be seen in the inevitable sequels whether the different approach Fincher and Zaillian have taken to the relationship between their two leads will strengthen or diminish their creation over the journey.
The big question and the unfortunate nagging doubt that plagued my enjoyment of the film: why? Just, why? What about this conversion isn’t utterly redundant? It’s not as though the minor changes in plot and character are enough to make this story seem fresh, and when the film has already been competently made, why did it need to be remade so soon? Are subtitles truly such a barrier for American audiences that they needed this version? And, if one decided that that really was justification for remaking the Swedish film, why not go the whole hog and set it in America?
It is close to bizarre that this film was made, with its setting remaining Sweden but its characters speaking English. The newspapers are written in Swedish, but one critical moment of ‘handwriting’ is done in English. Blomkvist and Salander speak English with non-specific European accents, which are clearly feigned as both are native English speakers. The inevitable conclusion is that subtitles really are box office poison in the USA.
The addition of a Hollywood sheen is clear, and the difference in relative budgets is evident in many scenes. Oscar nominations have come for Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, and yet the atmosphere and sense of isolation in the setting that was one of the real strengths of the Swedish original isn’t quite replicated. A nom has also been granted to Mara for her Salander, but, although she does an impressive job in a difficult role, I know which Salander I would watch again. The problem with pacing that was really one of the only flaws in the 2009 film remains an issue for Fincher, as it takes far too long to get his leads in the same room.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The is a competent thriller, and can be enjoyed in its own right. It is never fair to hold a film too strictly to its source – this issue is a constant bug bear of mine – however it is next to impossible to see this production as anything other than redundant pandering rather than art for art’s sake.Rating: