The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Back with my first post of 2012. May as well start the year as I mean to go on, which means I have a pile of films to talk about like anyone wants to hear another nerd’s justification for why he doesn’t go out and meet someone nice.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

2012 has an abundance of films I’d put off my own grandmother’s funeral to see. 2011 didn’t. There were films that interested me, but nothing that made me leap off my seat and start scratching at the door like a dog wanting to go walkies. The only film that came close was David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Why? Well, I liked the Swedish original, my perpetual man-crush Daniel Craig stars and it’s directed by David Fincher, a man who could direct a film called Ben Browne Loves Scrotum and I would still be clamouring for a ticket on opening day.

You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies, the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet – my family.”
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is based on the first novel in the best-selling Millennium trilogy (original title Män som hatar kvinnor- i.e. Men Who Hate Women) by Steig Larsson. In it, we follow disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he is drafted in by retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve a 40 year old case of the murder of his great-niece. Blomkvist soon finds himself way over his head and hires a research assistant in the form of prickly, motorbiking, Goth, master hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to help with the case. If you haven’t read or seen this story before, there are enough twists and turns on the standard murder mystery formula to keep you guessing. The main strength of the film is the crime solving double act of Blomkvist and Salander, a chalk and cheese pairing that simply works. Daniel Craig is Daniel Craig, but you get the feeling he was hired due to his starpower and the fact that he’s the current Bond- a point I’ll come back to in a bit. Rooney Mara is undoubtedly the talking point in this film. She manages to nail both the damaged vulnerability and simmering rage elements that make the character work. This is a star-making turn for her and I look forward to seeing her in plenty of films in the near future. Of the supporting cast, Christopher Plummer gives a surprising performance as the frail Henrik Vanger and Stellan Skarsgård uses his big, friendly face to his advantage as Martin Vanger.
You may be asking what the point is in remaking a film that’s barely three years old and was perfectly fine to begin with. It’s a good point, but there’s more to this than simply remaking it to be all American-like. For starters, there’s a big debate on whether this film is a remake at all, although some of the shots and performances certainly indicate the production team have at least seen the 2009 film. If you were planning on avoiding this one on the principle that it’s an American retelling of a successful foreign film (like The Grudge or The Ring) I implore you not to. A lot of effort has been made to make it true to the original story. The only real difference is that everyone speaks English and the film has bigger name actors. The Swedish locales and everything that made the first one a breath of fresh air (thank Christ this wasn’t reworked to be set in Los Angeles or New York) are kept. It’s important to remember the original films were made for TV and as such could benefit from a cinematic upgrade, especially handled by David Fincher.

I’m a bit of a meathead when it comes whats I likes. I found 2009’s Dragon Tattoo, starring the traffic-stoppingly beautiful Noomi Rapace, to be a very entertaining, if tough, watch. I’m not sure whether it was the sheer number of characters mentioned (the Vanger family and their relationships to each other are central to the plot) or what, but I wasn’t completely taken in by it. Fincher’s version is more streamlined that the 2009 one, with Steven Zaillian’s screenplay chopping and changing certain characters to make the film flow better. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or not, although I understood the intricacies of the plot more in this ‘un. The film is still very similar to the 2009 one but with a different feeling to it. It’s certainly better shot and made. There’s even a trippy Bond-like title sequence (which you can see here), which whilst awesome, is slightly at odds with the quiet menace of the rest of the film. By the way, if the makers of that don’t get the call to do the Skyfall opening titles, I will be shocked.

Actually, talking of Bond, I feel we are meant to take Craig’s 007 persona into account in his role as Blomkvist in one way, but disregard it in another. The character of Blomkvist is a womaniser, something that’s not really explored in the Fincher film, but we take it as read, because, hey- the dude’s James Bond. On the other hand, Blomkvist isn’t meant to be accustomed to the danger he finds himself in and is, in a way, the male damsel (mansel?) in distress, which is obviously very un-Bondlike. I have no problem separating characters from actors, it’s just that Craig’s Blomkvist is a bit of a blank slate, which makes it easy to project onto. Sure, lots of things happen to him, but I’m not sure I could write a quick paragraph outlining his character. I could write a whole sodding book about Mara’s Salander though. Whilst I think both Mara and Rapace play the role well, I think Mara has the slight edge. Rapace played her as someone you just wouldn’t mess with, whereas Mara’s vulnerability is a bit more apparent, which makes it easier to understand why people try and take advantage of her.

“Rape, torture, fire, animals, religion. Am I missing anything?”

Most of the good in the film is also the good in the 2009 version. There’s some genuinely disturbing scenes, a fantastic retribution scene which is so unpleasant, yet air-punchingly cathartic it’ll be etched on your brain like a sloppily done tattoo. As with previous incarnations, when the mystery starts unravelling, it’s all bloody compelling. Still, if you’ve yet to experience the Millennium trilogy in any of its forms, now’s the time. I’ve got big hopes for the already announced sequel. It’s not the most necessary remake/reinterpretation/whatever, but I enjoyed it for what it was- a populist, pulp murder-mystery made by a team of talented filmmakers at the top of their game. Which version is better? I’m not going to get into that argument now, but each have their merits. Recommended.

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