The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

American filmmakers should stop remakes of foreign films.  Rarely does it work, especially when the originals were just fine.  Case in point, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” 

The version of “Dragon Tattoo,” currently in theatres, is the second time that the story has been filmed.  Though set in Sweden the characters all speak English and the film has been directed by an American director, David Fincher (“The Social Network”).  Both versions are based on the book of the same title by author Stieg Larsson.  The previous version, from 2009, was in Swedish with English subtitles.

For the most part the current version is a fairly engrossing mystery.  By film’s end, I understood the story, but only in a way that was general and not as satisfying as it could have been.  “Dragon Tattoo” does not provide the fun and sense of discovery that one usually associates with a good mystery.  For example there is an important sequence in the film where journalist Mikael Blomkvist, (Daniel Craig) is comparing photographs from a small town parade from many years before.  He keeps flipping from one photo to another on his computer.  He even manages to get photographs from a photographer who was taking pictures of the same parade from a different angle.  He compares the two sets of photographs.  I was reminded of the movie “Blow Up” (1966) in which a photographer finds clues to a possible murder as he enlarges some photographs he has taken in a park.  What works so well in “Blow Up” is that the audience makes the  discovery along with the main character.  In “Dragon Tattoo” there is no such “eureka” moment.  Blomkvist does see something of significance in the photographs but we only get it in a tangential way after he has taken action.  In general Fincher seems to want to make his version more convoluted than the Swedish version.  I prefer the more straight forward approach of the original.

Upon returning home from the film I watched the Swedish “Dragon Tattoo” on Netflix.  What a difference.  The Swedish version is simpler and clearer.  The film is less busy, not convoluted, with story points that are razor sharp.  The Swedish version also provides the fun of following the mystery along with the main character who, in this version, has more of a personal stake in the outcome.  In fact, now having seen the Swedish version it is blatantly obvious that Fincher copied many of its shots and scenes but, in the process, did not manage to bring off the story nearly as well.

As the reporter chasing a mystery for a wealthy client Craig is fine.  The real find here though is Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, the body adorned title character.  Her performance is all the more striking when one considers that she played Mark Zuckerberg’s ex girlfriend in “The Social Network.”  I know it’s called “acting” but these two polar opposite roles demonstrate incredible versatility.

As for the over all movie, what a shame that all that money and hard work went into re-creating a feature film that largely tried to copy, but ultimately was not as good as, the original.  Why was it made?  My guess: For the dubious purposes of giving audiences a movie featuring a familiar leading man and to not be put through the inconvenience of having to read subtitles.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Director David Fincher, 2011, Columbia Pictures, 158 minutes, R

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on January 10, 2012, in New and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I feel like David Fincher chose style over content. It’s evident with the opening title sequence and Rooney Mara’s amazing transformation into Lisbeth. I really was interested in the plot and the Vanger family history. But in Fincher’s film adaptation, I became unclear with some parts of the story, especially with Blomkvist’s reason to help Henrik Vanger, which prompted me to watch the Swedish version.

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