Version 2.0 Now in Finchervision
I’m a fan. I’ve read the book by Stieg Larsson and watched the Swedish film more than once. Yes, the plot takes half the movie to really kick in, the leads are kept separate for too long, and who can believe that a print magazine is dangerous to the dominant paradigm anymore? However, I’m willing to forgive all those trespasses to take a spin through the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher. My host, Edward Copeland, wrote about the Swedish version here.
The question of whether or not we need remakes of perfectly good international films is a larger issue than should be taken on here. Notable exceptions are found, of course, but I’ll assert that we don’t need remakes at all. The paradox occurs, though, with the question of whether or not we need a new David Fincher film. The answer to that question is yes.
Dragon Tattoo is just the same, only different. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is an investigative journalist on the wrong end of a lawsuit. It seems his inability to prove certain assertions he made in print not only ruined his reputation, but also emptied his bank account. For this reason, he decides to listen to the pitch of a retired industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who wants to hire him for his own investigation — that of his presumed dead niece, Harriet, who went missing 40 years ago.
Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a goth hacker — tiny, brilliant and completely antisocial. She’s been declared incompetent by the state, and must turn over her finances to a new guardian when her previous one had a stroke. The guardian, (Yorik van Wageningen) abuses her sexually, but she later gets her brutal revenge. She’s a photo negative of the Stuart Smalley platitude: she’s better than you, smarter than you, and doesn’t give a flying flip if you like her or not.
Due to her unusual skill at research, Salander is hired by the industrialist Vanger to do a background check on Blomkvist. Once he finds out who did the incredibly detailed work on him, he wants to hire that person to help him find out what happened to Harriet. Finally the two characters join forces and really get on with the investigation, and they not only discover what happened to Harriet, but also what happened to a number of other young women scattered across Sweden.
Fincher spends more time with relationships in his version. We see more of Lisbeth’s affection (or what stands for affection in her life) for her first guardian. He also gives us more of Blomkvist’s stilted relationship with his daughter. Even Lisbeth’s employer at the security firm, Armansky (Goran Visnjic), reveals a little more about how he feels about her as a person than in the Swedish films. There’s slightly more time for humor such as the look Salander shoots Blomkvist when he claims the information on his computer is encrypted.
The main difference is that it’s an American film. The actors are better looking and wear more expensive clothes. They have international pull (Plummer! Richardson! Skarsgard! Berkoff! Wright!) and perform admirably. Where the Swedish film was a workaday piece that doesn’t get in its own way, Fincher is inventive and puts his stamp on his version without reinventing the whole thing.
And there’s no good reason to since whatever plot points hold the mystery together, they aren't as important as the presence of Lisbeth Salander. Played slightly less closed off and less fierce (in my opinion) by Rooney Mara than Noomi Rapace, Salander is the reason for the international craze for the books and the greenlight of the remake. She’s not only a unique action hero, she’s a unique character. She’d be watchable even if she weren’t solving decades’ worth of brutal murders and finding the lost girl. You just have to be willing to sit through the explanations of family trees and who doesn’t speak to whom — not to mention the violence — to get to the good stuff.
But that makes it seem as if that character is the only good thing about the film, which isn’t true. It’s a thriller, and a good one, with random gunshots, secret agendas, old photographs and high tech gadgets. The original title of Larsson’s book was “Men Who Hate Women,” and viewed through that lens, the content rises above a paint-by-numbers investigative procedural. It opens up the proceedings from the individual to the societal — which becomes crucial in the second and third parts of the trilogy.
By the way, FYYFF, on one t-shirt Salander wears, is a phrase written by late New Orleans blogger Ashley Morris as a response to those who suggested that the city of New Orleans should just be left to sink into the sea after Hurricane Katrina.
Finally, the opening credits hit me like a golf club to the jaw — in a good way. A CGI music video of Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Karen O’s version of Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song,” it’s full of imaginative and nightmarish imagery of scales, tire treads, the actors, computer cords, insects and more.