I initially maligned the idea of a remake of the original 2009 Swedish film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in my blog titled “No Need for an American Remake” which can be found in the June 2010 archives of RobbinsRealm Blog. As I walked toward the theater’s box office to purchase my ticket I still couldn’t envision the idea of someone taking Danish director Niels Arden Oplev’s film, and the striking portrayal by Noomi Rapace of the emotionally wounded and introverted Lisbeth and being able to add anything of significant substance. Fortunately for both myself and movie going audiences, two time academy award nominee director David Fincher, (The Social Network) Oscar winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian for Schindler’s List, and a top-notch cast have made this particular remake a more than worthwhile undertaking that has produced both a gripping and pristine piece of cinema. The 2011 incarnation of the movie takes hold of the viewer from the edgy, Bondesque opening credit sequence that contains Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Karen O’s collaboration on the cover of the iconic Led Zeppelin song, “Immigrant Song,” and, in this blogger’s opinion, keeps you in your seat throughout its runtime until the end credits.
To start with, the 158 minute movie, which was released on December 20, 2011, follows author Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published novel more closely than does the Swedish original. Disgraced Millennium Magazine Stockholm journalist Mikael Blomkvist, acted in a solid performance by Daniel Craig (Cowboys & Aliens), loses his financial savings in a court room battle when he is convicted of the libel of powerful businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. He is hired for a freelance assignment by veteran actor Christopher Plummer’s (Beginners) character of wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger, who is the scion of the highly dysfunctional Vanger family and whom Plummer imbues with a wonderful mixture of pity and dry wit.
Lured by both financial compensation and the promise of receiving confidential information that is in Vanger’s possession which can help Mikael in his fight against Wennerstrom, Blomkvist, for all intents and purposes, is tasked with writing Vanger’s memoirs; but the real reason for his employment is to uncover the truth behind a four decades old mystery surrounding the disappearance of Vanger’s niece Harriet. As Mikael begins to dig deeper into his investigation of Harriet’s disappearance, he uncovers a string of events that involve murder, rape, and anti-Semitism. Blomkvist contacts the Salander character, who is a private investigator, who looked into his background as part of a vetting process before Mikael was hired by Vanger. The unlikely duo join forces at the mid-point of the film to investigate what appear to be a series of religiously motivated murders.
As Lisbeth, Rooney Mara’s portrayal of the brooding, multi-pierced, tattooed, computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander does make great strides in advancing the overall appeal of the pale-pigmented heroine. Salander’s heinous victimization at the hands of abusive men and the feral intensity she uses as fuel to avenge herself makes her a feminist avatar for the current decade. Her check-me-out, stay the f*** away from me personality is an extension of her intricate personality. In this blogger’s opinion, director Fincher made the correct choice when he decided to award Mara the role of Lisbeth. Not only is she a fitting English-speaking substitute, but even when the film is at its most grimy it still is a watchable piece of cinema largely because Rooney Mara completely embodies the very essence of the Salander character’s righteous fury interwoven with her concealed vulnerability.
David Fincher’s style of directing has become synonymous with high end visual and intricate sound design and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a deviation from his norm. In the 2011 adaptation, which was made for approximately 90 million, Fincher did not water down the tone or make the film more mainstream friendly in order to avoid an R rating. In all aspects, the current 2011 adaptation is more sexually charged, upsetting, and violent than its Swedish predecessor. Credit must also be given to the brilliant cinematography done by Jeff Cronenweth (Fight Club). He frames the film in such a way that it exudes a haunting sense of frigidness and isolation that matches the spirit of the movie’s characters. The soundtrack was scored by former Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor and his collaborating / producing partner Atticus Ross; it is understated for the most part, but works to great effect. Deserving of special mention is actor Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting.) Skarsgard plays the convivial, yet enigmatic, Martin Vanger, who is the brother of Harriet, the presumed victim of foul play; and he does so with a frighteningly understated menace that lends excellent realism to the character.
Trivia buffs take note of the following: Originally cast in the role of Henrik Vanger actor Max Von Sydow (The Seventh Seal) had to bow out of the movie, making way for Christopher Plummer to take his place. Actual Swedish proverbs, “Evil shall with evil be expelled” and “What is hidden in snow comes forth in the thaw,” which are used as taglines for the movie, were told to director David Fincher by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard. Ellen Nyqvist, the daughter of Michael Nyqvist, who portrayed journalist Mikael Blomkvist in the original film, was working as a waitress in a diner that the 2011 movie was being filmed in. Once it was discovered who she was, a few lines were written into the script allowing Ellen to share screen time with Daniel Craig.
In conclusion, this film is a superb adaptation of the original novel; a tour de force of spot-on acting, cinematography, directing, and writing. The movie is obviously not for everyone, especially the faint of heart, due to some of the graphic depictions that, depending on one’s sensibilities, might be too much to handle. In addition, it is beyond a shadow of doubt not a movie for children. If you loved the original Swedish film or were a fan of Larsson’s books, or both, and are trepidatious about going to see the movie, there is no need to be – – just keep an open mind and I think you will be quite pleased. For those of you seeking a well crafted, jarring, and visceral cinematic experience you need look no further.