David Fincher’s first feature film since his excellent Oscar-winning Facebook film The Social Network is a new adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
It’s the first instalment in a trilogy written by Larsson that found enourmous commercial successful post-humously. The books then lead to a series of reasonably well-made Swedish films that made a star out of Noomi Rapace who is now making Hollywood blockbuster films with Robert Downey Jr.
An American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, one that is still set in Sweden and features characters speaking English in an affected accent might seem cause for despair at Hollywood’s lack of creativity. The draw card here however is the director David Fincher. Fincher has made some fantastic films over the years (Se7en, Zodiac, Fight Club) and the gritty source material seems a perfect match for his sensibilities. Not only this, the Swedish adaptation was made for television under a modest budget and this is reflected in the rather low key production values. With Fincher and MGM Studios at the helm of a remake, a more lavish interpretation of Larsson’s work could be made.
So how successful is this adaptation? As someone who has read the books and only recently seen the Swedish films, perhaps it is a little hard for me to see the forest from the trees. I found myself being drawn to very minute details and differences between the books, the Swedish films and now the American remake. The story itself I know like the back of my hand.
Let me front up with this disclaimer: I am a fan of the books, warts and all. There is some content in there that doesn’t really go anywhere as Larsson never finished the series. Its not exactly a perfectly crafted work and there are some bizarre quirks to the characters (mostly Blomkvist’s bedding of every significant female character) that probably should’ve been edited out. But at its core, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has a fun Agatha Christie style mystery and features a fascinating and entertaining heroine in Lisbeth Salander.
Rooney Mara is unrecognizable as Lisbeth from her previous role as Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend from the opening scene of The Social Network. She sticks pretty closely to Noomi Rapace’s interpretation and that is no bad thing. When we first meet Salander she has a freaky, intimidating appearance – a cacophony of piercings and leather – and limited social skills. We learn that she uses her extensive computer hacking and investigative skills to work for a security firm which is where she first crosses paths with a disgraced magazine journalist named Mikael Blomkvist.
Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig, is hired by an aging industrial tycoon Henrik Vanger to investigate the murder of his niece Harriet forty years ago. After uncovering a possible connection between Harriet and a series of other violent murders of women in the same era, Blomkvist engages the help of Lisbeth Salander to help solve the case. They form a strange odd-couple crime solving duo.
David Fincher does a reasonable job bringing this meandering, methodically paced story to life. He remains true to the spirit and tone of the book which means that the unwary should anticipate some scenes of exceptionally graphic brutality against women. Although the scenes are difficult to watch, they are a necessary component to the entire trilogy which is thematically tied together by misogynistic men and Lisbeth Salander’s revenge against them.
I found Fincher’s tweaks and changes when compared to the Swedish version to be a mixed bag. As expected, its a million times more polished in its presentation. I like that Fincher covered more of Blomkvist’s relationship with his magazine editor Erika, as their relationship was underplayed in the Swedish version despite its significance to the story. I don’t mind that he cut out the book’s rather unexpected detour into Australia either.
What I did find odd was the invention of a daughter, seemingly inserted into story to give Blomkvist a clue related to the bible. It seemed unnecessary to create a whole new character just to do that. Also, the development of both the murder investigation and the relationship with Salander felt better paced and more natural in the Swedish version.
What this latest version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will do is probably bring this story to an even wider audience. Given its origins as a Swedish work being written part time by someone who had never published fiction before, its amazing how far its come. If you wondered whether it was necessary to make another adaptation of the book, I think that it is definitely the equal of the Swedish version, if not a tad better, and it brings the story to a wider audience. I think that’s a good thing. Although if Rooney Mara does end up winning that Oscar nomination for Best Actress she should hand the damn thing to Noomi Rapace.