Because critical acclaim and positive word of mouth wasn’t enough to get much of North America to view 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we get an English adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel two years later, courtesy of director David Fincher. The new film contains the same story, told in largely the same way, except the major difference is that it’s in English. Maybe it’ll find a larger audience now; it definitely deserves to.
If I had a better memory, I might begin to compare and contrast the two films. Maybe someday I will, but at the moment, I can’t remember enough specifics about the Swedish original to do such a thing. I don’t remember a cat in that film, although it certainly might have been present. Regardless, a cat is in this film, and provides one of the most depressing and one of the funniest moments of the film. The former of which will probably be one of three or four scenes that I’ll have difficulty forgetting. (Then again, maybe I said this about similar scenes in the original.)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo begins by telling two stories, one of which is much more shrouded in mystery than the other. Primarily, we’re following a man named Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who was recently taken to court and lost his life savings. He’s a journalist who reported a false story. Slander, it has been called, and he has now been forced to leave his job with his magazine company. Luckily, a man named Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer) has contacted him, officially to write his memoir, unofficially to solve the murder of a woman named Harriet who has been dead a good forty years now. Since he’s out of a job, and because Henrik promises a way to take down the man who previously took him to court, he agrees.
Our second story follows Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a social outcast who was previously locked away in a mental institution. As a result, she has to have a chaperone (Yorick van Wageningen), who is much more of a deviant than you would hope. She seems capable enough at managing things like her financial state, but the State believes otherwise. For about half of the film, this is all that she has to deal with, and we spend most of our time with Mikael. His story is more interesting and less graphic, after all.
Eventually, Lisbeth gets involved in the murder mystery and becomes a larger focus of our attention. She’s the girl with the dragon tattoo, if you’re wondering. An interesting and memorable character in the 2009 film (when she was played by Noomi Rapace), here she’s just as interesting if slightly different. The two actresses don’t play the characters identically, and if you did see the original film, you’ll want to see this one just to see the differences. There are many similarities, but the differences are what make it worthwhile viewing material. Similarly, that’s how you can view the film as a whole: Even if you’ve seen the original, and remember it (unlike my experience with the remake), you’ll still get something out of it.
Also in the cast is Stellan Skarsgård as some random family member of the Verger household (all of them live on an island, you see, yet they hardly speak with one another), while Robin Wright turns up as Mikael’s co-worker and on-and-off lover. That’s about all of the members of the cast that the average viewer will recognize, which helps add to the mystery. You’re not sure who might be the murder because you haven’t seen most of these faces before. If someone like Tom Hanks randomly showed up, you’re probably going to automatically suspect him. Maybe that would have worked as a nice red herring, though.
Most of the film ends up dealing with this murder mystery. That means that we spend a great deal of time watching characters scan documents and pictures, attempting to find something that might have been overlooked in the last forty years. These are really, really smart people, which is always a plus when you’re watching a movie, although they sometimes jump to some rather strange conclusions. They’re usually right, of course, but the logic used occasionally baffled me. Maybe that’s just the plus of having an insanely high IQ; you’re able to make those jumps and be right.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sets a great atmosphere. I was cold while watching it, even though I’m sure that it wasn’t particularly cold in the theater. Filming large sequences in Stockholm and shooting primarily on-location helps this out, but it’s not just about the locale. The tone set also establishes this. You get immersed, and you want to look for clues just as much as the characters do — maybe more so.
Speaking of the characters, the star of these films has always been Lisbeth Salander. Mikael is there, and I think he was actually featured more prominently in this film than in the 2009 one, but because of her personality, appearance and stone-cold, grim, determination, we are drawn to Lisbeth. Even without showing a shred of emotion throughout, Lisbeth becomes who we want to focus on. Mara plays her completely straight-faced for about 99% of her screentime, but we still understand what she’s feeling and why. Although Daniel Craig is the only real major star going in, Mara shines and will no doubt be getting an Oscar nomination for her role; she deserves it.
The problem the film has it that it doesn’t quite know how to end. It has a few points when it easily could have, and yet it drags on. This is a long film, running almost 160 minutes long. The original was long as well, and length was really its only problem. I still think that this story could be told in two hours. The original felt too long at the beginning, while this one was too long at the end. It’s strange how something like that could happen, but it’s what I felt while watching.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is still a very good film, and whether you’ve seen the original or not, I would recommend checking it out. The 2009 film is better, I think, although I cannot, at this time, pinpoint exactly why. Maybe having the characters speak in Swedish instead of just with Swedish accents added to the allure and mystery. Whether that’s the case or not, I still have to recommend you watch this film.