Trying to adapt the same material a second time is a challenge for any director, it seems, and David Fincher isn’t above a challenge as a film-maker. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a technical challenge pulled off brilliantly from that perspective; it’s ability to entertain is debatable but one can’t argue that the visual effects work on it was nothing less but stunning. The Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an art house hit in America, with the other two films in the Millennium trilogy finding similar commercial and critical success later in the year, and the book series it was based on has found roots all over the world. An American remake of the same material seemed all but certain and with the success of both a recent film and a book series Fincher’s challenge was immense.
Which is why his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is all that more the disappointment.
The film follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist for Millennium magazine, on perhaps the lowest point of his career. Convicted of libeling a prominent businessman, he’s professionally disgraced and bankrupt. Lured out to the countryside by retired mogul Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), he’s given a chance at personal redemption by attempting to solve a disappearance. Henrik’s niece Harriet seemingly vanished 30 years ago and her killer has been taunting Henrik every year since. Under the cover of writing Henrik’s memoirs about the family and the family business, Blomkvist delves deep into the family’s history and finds far worse than he had ever imagined. Joining him on this investigation is a computer hacker (Rooney Mara) of remarkable brilliance and questionable fashion sense.
Fincher’s attempt at Dragon Tattoo is remarkable in his visual sense. This is easily one of the best looking films of 2011 despite being located in area (Sweden) that doesn’t have the sort of flair in winter other countries do. As we move through Sweden in the winter we can almost feel the biting cold; Fincher has shot this film remarkably well and the film’s score is rather impressive too. From a purely mechanical viewpoint this is film is put together better than nearly every film this year.
On the surface this is a remarkable film and the few moments of intensity from the Swedish version are improved upon in this film, the rape scene in particular. It’s easily the most uncomfortable moment this year in cinema. Fincher has visualized a near perfect adaptation of the novel and something that stands apart from the Swedish version. He just didn’t do what Gus Van Sant did with Psycho, reconstructing it shot by shot. This is an improvement in visual flair with his usual epic style of film-making.
And that’s a bit of a problem because the film is about 40 minutes too long.
While Fincher has the story-telling chops to stretch a film into the three hour territory this telling of Dragon Tattoo isn’t one that needs it. Big moments of the film drag on, almost unnecessarily, as the film feels more like a 90 minute story padded to hit the 150 minute mark. There’s a slick, lean version of this film ready to be had with a more judicious editor. As it stands at over two and a half hours the film becomes tedious and drags right before critical story-telling moments. It’s hard to get back into the story at times because the film drags on.
The film’s other big problem is that of its two main stars. While the rest of the cast sans Plummer adapts Americanized versions of Swedish accents, Craig maintains most of his mannerisms and accent from James Bond. Craig is solid in the role, nothing special, but the film’s weak link is Rooney Mara. Lisbeth has to carry this film in critical parts and Mara isn’t up to the task. It sinks the film further than the film’s overly long story ever will.
While it’s unnecessary to compare her to Noomi Rapace’s brilliant work with the same character it’s a differently written part in a different film, Rapace carried the Swedish version of the film in a way that Mara doesn’t. Lisbeth is a critical character in Mara doesn’t have the dramatic gravitas to carry her end. She has an awkward chemistry with Craig but it doesn’t hurt the film; the characters aren’t meant to click like in a romantic drama. She’s a talented actress but it’s more of a case of her looking like the ideal Lisbeth that Fincher was going for as opposed to having the chops to do so.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of the best films of 2010 but unfortunately its American remake can only be classified amongst the worst.
Director: David Fincher
Notable Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson
Writer(s): Steven Zaillian based off “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson
Tags: Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, David Fincher, Joely Richardson, Robin Wright, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo