The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

It should go without saying that no adaptation is going to please everyone; it’s impossible to encompass all the nuances of one medium across the transition to another. Which makes comparisons not exactly a waste of time but certainly counterproductive, as it becomes difficult to judge a work for what it is rather than what it isn’t. By the token, multiple adaptations of the same work have a steeper hill to climb, especially if previous versions are more than capable of standing alone in and of themselves.

Which is all a long way of saying the less familiar you are with any other iteration of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the more you will like David Fincher‘s take on it.

Considering the novel is a much-loved phenomenon, and the original Swedish adaptation is only two years old, the odds of limited exposure are low. But for the unfamiliar…

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a reporter in disgrace, convicted of libel, and with his career in such a shambles, he doesn’t know what his next move will be. Not until a reclusive billionaire (Christopher Plummer) shows up with an offer he should refuse but can’t — proof that he is actually right in his accusations if he can discover who murdered a teenage girl 40 years earlier. It’s a seemingly impossible task; fortunately, Blomkvist has help in the comely shape of the equally impossible hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).

This is frankly the kind of thing Fincher can do in his sleep. It is slick and entertaining from beginning to end, swerving across a story which sprawls from downtown Stockholm to 40-year-old family gatherings to underground torture chambers and disfigured corpses. It should be child’s play for the director of Seven, and it is.

Unfortunately, because he is just the right director for the American version of Girl, he never has to try and go beyond his own boundaries, and that shows, as well, though it’s not entirely his fault. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian‘s (Moneyball) script never manages to take control of the source material. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is so unerringly faithful it stops being an adaptation and soon becomes a recitation of the book. Even worse, when it does make changes for the better, it shows a willingness to do so which is never taken to its logical conclusion. To a point this is fine, as it preserves what’s good and well-liked about the source material. Most of which is Salander.

A cynic might say she is the kind of character created to be popular. Anti-social, emotionally scarred, and with a will of iron, she is honey for the hurt-comfort addicts of the world, crying out for help and not wanting any of it. Which is the thing which makes her not only palatable but likeable; she refuses to turn her pain to pathos but instead shows the world nothing but strength. It makes for an interesting swap on the typical male-female, hero-damsel dynamic, putting Craig in the typical sensitive damsel role. And Mara plays it well, showing off Salander’s standoffishness without becoming a blank slate. Though, to be fair, Salander is such a well-defined character (at least early on, before she begins taking on superhuman dimensions in later books) it would take a legitimately bad actress to screw her up.

Though none of the other characters are quite as sharp, they are all just as well-cast, often to type and doing exactly what is needed of them. But despite any pretensions, there’s not much else going on beyond just what is needed. It’s just too faithful to the book, incorporating some scenes it doesn’t even need except that they were in the book. Eventually it can’t help but pick up some of the novelistic habits of the source that don’t translate well to a plot-sensitive thriller. There’s an old saying about horror films, “when the monster is dead, the movie is over,” which Zaillian and Fincher have forgotten in their quest to include as much of the source as they can, to the point of losing sight of what they want their movie to be about.

Which is the only thing that’s really wrong with Dragon Tattoo: it’s expertly rote. But that’s a big something, and eventually it’s impossible to get away from. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is everything you would expect from Fincher’s version of the book, and that is the good and the bad. Slick and entertaining throughout, there is absolutely nothing in it which surprises.

Cast: Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist; Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander; Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger; Stellan Skarsgård as Martin Vanger; Steven Berkoff as Frode; Robin Wright as Erika Berger; Yorick van Wageningen as Bjurman; Joely Richardson as Anita Vanger; Geraldine James as Cecilia; Goran Visnjic as Aramansky; Donald Sumpter as Detective Morell; Ulf Friberg as Wennerström; Bengt C.W. Carlsson as Palmgren; Tony Way as Plague; Per Myberg as Harald.

(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios --; Scott Rudin Productions; Yellow Bird Films --; Columbia/Sony Pictures --; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo --; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Facebook) --
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Review by . Review posted Monday, January 2nd, 2012. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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