The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Starring Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James

Directed by David Fincher

Expectations: Low. I’m expecting the same reaction as the original, but hopefully Fincher can do something with it that excites me.

Didn’t I already write a review for this movie? Oh yeah, I did. The American version and the original Swedish adaptation of Steig Larson’s explosively popular novel are nearly identical, and therefore I feel almost exactly the same about both of them. There are some minor differences that allowed me to follow certain aspects of the story better in this version, but there were also underplayed moments where I only knew what was going on because I had already seen the Swedish version. This leads me to believe that the target audience for the American remake is specifically people who read the book, but didn’t want to see the Swedish film. And this gets me to the main reason I think this film exists: Americans don’t want to read subtitles. But you knew that already.

I wasn’t shy about my indifference to the original Dragon Tattoo film, and while Fincher’s version is a more entertaining version of the story, there’s just something inherently fucked up about remaking a movie that was literally just made. From an artistic standpoint, it’s pointless; the story has already been realized in the modern era and anything that Fincher added is minor to the point of meaningless. The biggest boon for this version is Trent Reznor’s score which amps up the tension perfectly in spots, but at other times it sticks out and forces its coolness on the audience without much impact.

By far the most interesting comparison of the two films are the way they use nudity. Part of me wonders if its usage in this version was expressly dictated by the rules of the censors, but instead it may just be American culture and our unwillingness to have much (or any) male nudity in our films. There’s plentiful female nudity throughout the film, but outside of a little Daniel Craig plumber’s crack, there’s not a bit of male nudity. You’d think a film that contains a revenge rape on a male wouldn’t be so sexist, but yet here I am watching yet another scene of Rooney Mara taking her shirt off. The lesbian scene in the original is also expanded to include some girl-on-girl titillation, and even the rape of Lizbeth feels sexualized.

Netflix has the Swedish version on Instant, so I was able to re-watch a few scenes to refresh my memory. Sure enough, the rapes in the original are much more affecting and hard to watch, brought home by incredibly realistic performances. The American version features far more female nudity during the rape, and the scene’s focus is completely shifted from Lisbeth’s perspective to that of her attacker. This creates an odd situation as we’re following his sadism instead of her pain. Perhaps this was done to create a feeling of unease on the audience’s part — hopefully no one is deriving pleasure from it — but it’s a strange choice and one that distances us from Lisbeth emotionally. The American film may be more graphic with its nudity, but the Swedish version is far more graphic in every other way, and is therefore much harder to watch (and more genuine).

At the end of the day, Fincher’s version is more watchable and easily digested, but it still suffers from a lot of the same muddled storytelling. Perhaps the original tale is just so complex and twisting that the two films are the best it can be adapted into one feature-length film. It should also be noted that while Rooney Mara does a great job in her role as Lisbeth Salander, she pales in comparison to Noomi Rapace’s turn in the Swedish version. This is offset by Daniel Craig’s superior performance as Blomkvist in the American version. The two films are slight variations on the same theme, and I am at a loss to recommend either of them. The Fincher version is overall the more entertaining film, but I’d rather see the Swedish version again if I was forced to watch one of them, and it will be that version that I remember.


4 comments to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

  • Even though Fincher makes a big point to never copy himself in what he does in movies, I sort of felt like he did a lot of that here. Yeah, he’s got some exciting material to work with and makes it as creepy and strange as he can, but it also feels a lot like something he’s done before and a bit of an unnecessary remake if you think about it. Still, solid performances from Craig and Mara. Good review Will.

  • Solid review, Will. I too, watched the entire series of Girl films in quick succession over the course of a couple of days, and while I found the origional Dragon Tattoo to be superior in most ways to Fincher’s version, I’d say that Fincher’s version is, as you mentioned, the more “easily digested” of the two versions. What I enjoyed about the Swedish films in this saga is the way they all interlocked – some key moments in Dragon Tattoo come back in Girl Who Played With Fire and Hornet’s Nest – although I will nod my head in agreement with you over the time it takes to get things moving in this regard. You mention in your review of the Swedish Dragon Tattoo that Rapace is essentially supporting Nykvist in his own film, and the letharghic pacing to get the pair together almost cripples the films pacing; this is certainly true of Fincher’s version as well, although I think he handles it better somehow, creating a sense of “fate accompli” in a way; almost as if it’s desinty these two are going to be together in a way. The flaws in the rape-and-revenge-rape sequences are, to my mind, handled better in the Swedish version for the factors you pointed out – in the Swedish version, the rape is told from Lisbeth’s perspective, while Fincher opts for the Silence of The Lambs style methodology in his film, with a POV from the perpetrator that, perhaps going against the original text, slants the emotion of the viewer in a different direction.

    In any case, I’m still going to go on record and state that remaking the original films so soon after release for English audiences was – and still is – entirely unwarranted. These aren’t films that will remain critical blockbusters for the next several decades, these are slow-burn crime thrillers, of which the majority of content wouldn’t seem out of place on a modern Hollywood television serial.

    Great review, Will.

    • Yeah, you’re right that Fincher handles the bringing of Nykvist and Salander together better, but even in that version is still feels odd to me. I’m sure it would make more sense if I read the book, but that’s not something I really care to do. And the remaking of this shows just how creatively bankrupt Hollywood is these days, just taking everything they can from around the world and remaking it in the hopes that they can recreate some of the buzz for their version. And remakes have now ascended to the level of attracting top-level directors. Boo. I’m fine with some remakes, as Hollywood has always done them, but I’d love to see them scale it back and deliver some new content.

      Glad you liked the review!

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