Thursday, April 5, 2012

REVIEW: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011 Remake)

Okay, let’s get it out of the way up front – this movie was only made because Americans are too stupid to read subtitles. There. I said it. Now, are we uptight prudes who are going to condemn this great film because of that dire fact, or are we appreciative of masterful cinema by one of the greatest directors in the business?

Director: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara

Yes, I’m certainly a David Fincher fanboy, and I love pretty much everything he’s done (okay – Panic Room was pretty shit). He’s proven himself a master of several genres and adaptable to pretty much any storytelling template he puts his mind to. His shots are stylish and hard-hitting, and the way he conveys a story is just as good now as it was back in ’96 when he put out Se7en.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo maybe didn’t need a remake just three short years after its original Swedish debut, and it’s made even more dubious by the fact that everyone in this film speaks with a heavy Swedish accent anyway – begging the question as to why they didn’t just touch up the original film and give it some DVD extras or something – but the inarguable fact is, this is an awesome story. Who cares if it’s necessary or not? This is just another alternative along with the original book and the original movie, and there is always room for more quality, gritty, hard-assed detective stories.

This isn’t a shot for shot remake either, and contains fistfuls of great atmospheric shots and nifty storytelling devices. Really all that’s changed is that this isn’t as raw as the original, and feels much more fine-tuned and professional, much more American-style polished, which is neither good nor bad – just different. Your mileage may vary. Me, I think it’s fine, and the whole thing feels more epic and immense. The original was great for its odd, scrappy rawness, but this is still a very viable new direction.

The story remains intact, a dual journey of a disgraced journalist who accepts a strange assignment to look into the disappearance and murder of a young girl 40 years in the past and of a cold and violent but brilliant young woman on a search for connection. Daniel Craig has never much impressed me before, but he does a great job here and really gives an intense, vehement performance as Mikael Blomqvist. Rooney Mara had a lot to live up to as Lisbeth Salander compared to original actress Noomi Rapace, but she does an awesome job and captures the essence of the character perfectly. She is cold, calculating and subtly angry, but not without the hints of a more emotional core below the surface.

Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger is really excellent and so is Stellan Skarsgard as Martin – even better than the original in the latter case, as he is vicious and commanding. We don’t get to see as many flashbacks in this version, which I actually like better, as it lets the story flow as a more cohesive whole. They also changed the ending twist, and that I was not expecting (I won’t spoil it here for you), but it does make a little more sense now, as opposed to the wild original version. The story is still a chilling and sprawling social commentary on the secret abuse of women and how little society does anything about it.

People complain endlessly about Hollywood being nothing but a chain of remakes and sequels nowadays, and sometimes they have a point (witness the endless stream of uninspired horror remakes), but other times I think they’re being too nitpicky. Films are the modern equivalent of campfire folk tales, and they have been ever since their initiation in the early 20th century. They can be told and re-told as many times as is the storyteller’s whim, and with a good, confident voice and a strong vision, it’s interesting at the very least to see what each new director adds to the tale. Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo is a grade-A film. Go see it.

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