The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
December 27, 2011 2 Comments
Driven near-mad by the continuation of a tradition which should have ceased with her disappearance, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) in a last-ditch attempt to determine the identity of his great-niece, Harriet Vanger’s killer – someone who Henrik believes to be a member of his own warring family. Promised information which might help to clear his name, Mikael takes on a research partner to assist him in solving a case which has baffled the local authorities for 40 years. Before she can bring her unparalleled abilities to the table, however, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) must overcome troubles of her own.
David Fincher’s re-adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo gets off to a promising start. Kick-starting proceedings with a Bond-esque opening number brought to life by a CG river of shape-shifting metal, the film’s title sequence is quite something to behold, hinting at the darkness to come while also foreshadowing elements of the following instalments: The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest. Alas, the creativity and ingenuity displayed in said sequence sets the bar too high, and Fincher spends the rest of the movie trying to deliver on his initial promise, one which at times seems directly at odds with his source material.
Let’s get one thing straight: I have nothing against remakes. Indeed, given the right circumstances they can even play an important role in the filmmaking process. Gore Verbinski, Zach Snyder and Marcus Nispel, to name but a few, all honed their craft helming remakes of horror classics, each franchise diluted by a stream of lesser sequels, and practically calling out for another lease of life. While the results might themselves have failed to recreate the same success as the originals, they at least updated the stories for contemporary – and often foreign – audiences; nobody wanted to see A Nightmare On Elm Street 25, but there was still undoubtedly an audience for a new take on the original premise.
Enter David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Now, Fincher is not some filmmaking hack in need of a guaranteed hit, nor is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo an outdated work plagued by diminishing returns. Both are respected, and both are better than this: a needless, and ultimately thankless attempt to pander to an ignorant American audience. Attempting to justify his reimagining’s existence (it’s not a remake, but a new interpretation. Apparently), Fincher and his screenwriters have bent the narrative out of shape – shifting focus from the central mystery to the relationship between the two lead characters – and in so doing have birthed something misshapen and unwieldy.
Attempting to stay true – if not truer – to Stieg Larsson’s source novel, the filmmakers have reassigned emphasis, re-inserted plot points and rejigged the narrative in a bid for distinction. Importantly, however, they have not relocated the action, instead opting to once again set the narrative in and around Stockholm. As such we have a story which – although just 6 minutes longer – feels almost glacial in pace, a mystery which any perusal of the film’s casting will solve in an instant, and characters who speak English (even when both onscreen are Swedish) for no apparent reason other than to ensure that audiences need not read subtitles – no doubt the reason that they ignored director Niels Arden Oplev’s superior original in the first place.
Not that I was a particularly huge fan of the story the first time around. A minimalist screenplay, ludicrous plotting and disappointing dénouement robbed even the original from a place in my list favourite movies of either year. While Rooney Mara may excel as Lisbeth Salander (no small ask for such a strong and iconic character) and Daniel Craig may finally find a role suited to his talents in Mikael Blomkvist (a name which is not so suited to his accent), there is nothing on display to suggest that this is anything more than just the same story, the same flaws, repeated in the hopes of securing a wider audience.
Inexplicably paced, poorly judged and utterly pointless, Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a competent but wholly unnecessary retread of ideas formulated better elsewhere. Despite capable performances, stylish direction and a killer opening sequence, this film ultimately makes little or no case for its existence.