The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – So in the month since I’ve seen the latter, I’ve still not quite made up my mind whose film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I prefer: Niels Arden Oplev or David Fincher. The Swedish Dragon Tattoo is the only film of Oplev’s I’ve ever seen whereas Fincher is a man whose every film I have enjoyed (Yes, I am that one guy who will stick up for Alien 3). That’s kind of avoiding the main issue. Fincher brings all of his trademark Fincher-ness to Stieg Larson’s story of murder, rape, Nazis, and intrigue. He reteams with his Oscar-winning composers from The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Their score sets the mood of the film, even if a badass cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by Reznor and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs feels out of place in the opening credits (it’s like a Bond movie credit sequence on some horrifying drugs). Then again, said credit sequence does get the viewer feeling a bit out of sorts, which is the appropriate mood to establish. The ride only gets worse from there.

The story should be familiar by now: a wealthy man (Christopher Plummer) hires a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) to investigate the disappearance of his neice (Moa Garpendal) some forty years prior. On an initially unrelated story, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is an antisocial young woman who is a ward of the state. Her guardian, who she has a good relationship with, has a stroke and she is assigned a new guardian who is a sexual sadist. Soon he and the audience learn Lisbeth is not someone to be fucked with in one of the book/movie’s most famous scenes. But enough about story. You know the story from the books or old movies. Even if you don’t, the main question here is the execution. The casting is all pretty spot-on. The main character Mikail Blomkvist is always described as being very popular with women (kind of a boast since he’s a thinly-disguised version of Larson). That makes more sense with Craig than with Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist. The tricky casting lies with Lisbeth. Not only is the now-iconic character the main appeal of the books, but Noomi Rapace so perfectly embodied the role in the Swedish films, there was a question of just who could play the role in an American version. The studio, I have heard, pushed for Natalie Portman, Carey Mulligan, Ellen Page, and Scarlett Johansson. Fincher wanted Rooney Mara, who had previously had a small role in The Social Network. The gamble paid off. Mara is electric in the role that is sure to make her a star and possibly get her some awards recognition (as of this writing she has been nominated for a few). She has a fearless dedication to the role that ensures anyone who sees this movie will be talking about her. Important supporting roles are filled abley by the likes of Joely Richardson (who is sounding more and more like her mother) and actual Swedish person Stellan Skarsgård. Minor roles are filled with actors like Robin Wright, Embeth Davidtz, Goran Višnjić, and The Killing’s actual Swedish person Joel Kinnaman. This is partially because the characters will reappear in larger roles in sequels (especially Davidtz, who I’m not sure has any lines in this film). Mostly though it’s because Fincher wants professionals in every role, as evidenced by this-film-only small roles filled by Alan Dale and actual Swedish person David Dencik (who is the only actor I am aware of to appear in both version, albeit in different roles).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has somewhat underperformed at the box office. It’s not a bomb, to be sure, but it fell below the rather high expectations for the adaptation of a wildly popular novel. Some film snobs have proposed maybe it’s due to remaking a film that’s only three years old. More level heads have declared that maybe opening a movie with graphic rape scenes (plural) at Christmas was monumentally bad timing. Either way, we will get The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest with our very capable new cast, though not necessarily Fincher. I hope they can coax him into it (read: pay him fucktons of money to do it) because while Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent thriller that may make a new American version suffer by comparison, Daniel Alfredson’s sequels were somewhat lacking any real style (he could learn from his brother Tomas, whose Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let the Right One In were both among the best films of the years they were released). I would like to see Fincher’s style imprinted on those stories, which are more problematic for filmic adaptation. If Fincher does not return, hopefully they could rope in some other auteur to take the reins. That’s all future speculation, though. In the meantime if you want to see an absorbing story about reprehensible actions and engaging characters, Fincher’s film is a worthy entry in the Stieg Larson canon.

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