As the remake, David Fincher’s new film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has its inherent weakness right from the beginning of its production. Around two years ago, the original Swedish picture directed by Niels Arden Oplev, based on late Stieg Larsson’s popular novel, made such a strong impression with its disturbing mystery tale and its cool, fascinating heroine that Fincher’s version was immediately compared to what I saw in the original version. Yes, it does not feel as fresh as the original version did, but the remake version has its own strength along with its own style, and I could enjoy it while admiring how technically polished the product is as the English version made by Hollywood studio.
Though there are notable minor differences, the plot is pretty much same. Around 45 years ago, Harriet Vanger, a young niece of a well-known millionaire Herik Vanger(Christopher Plummer), was suddenly vanished at the family manor located in the island under the classic situation of mystery novel. The island was locked from the mainland while she was disappeared, so it can be assumed that she was murdered and hidden somewhere around the island, but the police did not get any useful clue about her whereabouts, let alone her body. And somebody always sends the package containing a pressed flower to Vanger every year, which was Harriet’s annual present to her dear uncle.
Though he is old and retired, Vanger still has considerable power as the head of the Vanger family and the former CEO of their big family business. Through his family lawyer, he hires a well-known investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist(Daniel Craig) to find what really happened on that day. Blomkvist is reluctant, but he accepts his offer, mainly because he is in financial trouble after losing the libel suit caused by his mistake. The process is slow at first, but he begins to unearth several clues, and then he is helped by a young hacker named Lisbeth Salander(Rooney Mara), who knows a lot of him and his trouble because of her latest job.
What they are finally going to uncover is the atrocity associated with Nazism, family abuse, and serial killing. The director David Fincher is no stranger to serial killing, which was the subject of his two excellent films. “Seven”(1995) was a dark tale of gruesome serial killing drenched with that unforgettably brooding atmosphere which still lingers on my mind. “Zodiac”(2007) was a haunting film based on the unsolved real-life serial killing case with the vivid, realistic presentation of San Francisco during the 1970s.
His subtle but stylish handling of Larsson’s novel exists somewhere between these two dark films. Accompanied by “Immigrant Song” performed by Karen O, his movie instantly grips our attention with the main title sequence full of striking images to impress us, and then it pulls us into the compelling mystery inside the story under the calm, controlled direction.
Fincher has always been masterful in case of creating the right atmosphere for his stories to tell. That cold atmosphere in the original version is more cinematic and more enhanced, as shown in the scene in which the Vanger manor reveals itself in front of approaching camera amid snow blowing in the air. Unlike the original version, Fincher made the flashback sequences for showing us the incidents in the island at that time, and its warm, soft tone makes a notable contrast with the cold, desolate atmosphere in the present scenes. The sense of isolation seeps into the quietness, and even the small sound of wind blowing into the house feels quite suspenseful during one important scene. The ambient score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is constantly abrasive and unpleasant; I doubt who can possibly enjoy their 3-hour score album from the beginning to the end, but their sound(I even doubt whether it can be called ‘score’) works as the part of the sound design in the film though it is distracting at times.
The major surprise of the film is Rooney Mara, who played a girl who dumped Mark Zuckerberg in the opening scene of Fincher’s stunning masterpiece “The Social Network”(2010). When I saw Noomi Rapace in the original version, I agreed with many critics that it might be impossible to find an American actress who can replace Rapace, but Mara proves that we were wrong with one of the best breakthrough performances of the last year. I should mention that she does not surpass that coldly fierce presence of Rapace because the movie softens her character a little bit, but Mara is as electrifying as Rapace in her own way. Her Salander is less edgy than Rapace’s, but she is still that unpredictable tough girl with vulnerable sides who can be very ruthless, especially when she chooses a drastic measure to solve the recent problem with her newly appointed legal guardian(Yorick van Wageningen), a disgusting man who makes a big mistake of underestimating what Salander is capable of. The scenes between them are the most unpleasant thing to watch in the film.
Because of the big impression left by the original version, it is a little awkward to observe the actors delivering English dialogues with accent at first, but, thanks to the effective performances by Rooney and the other actors, I did not have much problem with being immersed into the story. When I saw gloomy Michael Nyqvist in the original version, I thought Richard Burton would be a perfect choice if he was alive and younger, but Daniel Craig is a good alternative as the weary but upright journalist who gets a little closer to Salander than others.
Other players also play their characters well, who are more than being the prime suspects or the secondary characters on the boundary of the story. Most of the Vanger family members are shown for a brief time, but they are surely interesting suspects with shady family background. Stellan Skarsgård is well cast(I knew from the beginning that he would be cast in this film) as Vanger’s nephew who runs the company, and so is Steven Berkoff, who plays the family lawyer who may have something to hide. I imagined Hal Holbrook as Vanger, but Christopher Plummer is effective as a wise, willy old man who wants to know what happened to his niece… or does he?
The adapted screenplay by Stephen Zaillian approaches closer to the novel than the original version, while also sometimes goes farther from the novel. There are some noticeable changes throughout Zaillian’s screenplay, and the major difference is how the mystery in the story is resolved. The answer is not changed, but the resolution in Fincher’s version is more extended than the original version. I am not sure about whether it improves the story or not, but I did not lost any interest while watching it nevertheless.
So, which one is better? It is a little hard to answer. Fincher’s version is technically superior in many aspects, but I also appreciate the direct, unpretentious approach of the original version. I think I am a little more inclined to the original version; after all, it came first and it feels more natural because, well, they speak Swedish. But I won’t deny that Fincher does a pretty good job while injecting his distinctive style into a good story served to him.