When it comes to words, I’ll admit that I have a flair for the dramatic. When I love something, the superlatives flow. Not too long ago I watched a movie on Netflix streaming and proclaimed it one of the best movies I’d ever seen in my life. That’s that flair for the dramatic I was talking about. But this time I meant it. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a slice of noveau noir that any Hitchcock fan would love. Even the Swedish dialogue and English subtitles didn’t bother me, and that’s saying a lot.
Based on the popular Millennium series’ book of the same name by author Steig Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the harrowing tale of Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker with a disturbing psychological and criminal history. Out on some sort of parole, she augments her legit income by moonlighting as a free-lance hacker. In this capacity she encounters journalist Mikael Blomkvist, while performing a background check on behalf of a wealthy financier named Henrik Vanger. Vanger wants the journalist to find his long lost niece but must ensure that Blomkvist is fit for the job, given some recent legal troubles. Lisbeth is hacking Blomkvist, so when he begins to investigate the Vanger disappearance, she does too. Eventually they team up for what proves to be a mysterious journey into the depths of human depravity. Lisbeth is dark and brooding on the surface, but her exterior belies a compassion and fortitude that most of the world doesn’t see. Fiercely resilient and protective, she is a survivor in every sense of the word. Her physical appearance is a study in contrasts: a thin seemingly fragile frame juxtaposed with harsh piercings and a jagged Mohawk. Jet-black hair and alabaster skin complete the shocking picture. In turn, Blomkvist becomes an ally, friend, lover and protector. His warmth and her initial icy disposition eventually meld together in a natural way, and their chemistry is palpable.
I apologize for rambling on like that, but I needed to convey all of these things about the original version so you’d understand why the updated version from David Fincher (The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) just doesn’t measure up. The Swedish version was released in 2009. Are we really remaking 2 year old movies now? Why, because arrogant Americans can’t bear to read subtitles? The Swedish version was amazing, and I can understand a phenomenal filmmaker like Fincher wanting to introduce the story to new audiences. However, when something is fantastic, you have to stay true to it because it’s inherently difficult to improve something that’s already great. There is source material to work with here. I have not read the books in the Millennium series, but everyone says that they are fantastic. Great literary material and a great original cinematic interpretation. Yet I feel that Fincher found a way to come up short, by comparison. I saw the movie with two friends who had both read the books but not seen the Swedish version. One really liked Fincher’s take (I think b/c she had nothing to compare it to) and the other didn’t think it stayed true to the books. That, my friends spells disappointment.
Despite my dissatisfaction with the movie itself, I want to be clear that I thought the casting and the performances were excellent. Rooney Mara (The Social Network) and Daniel Craig (Dream House) were great in their roles. I attribute any lack of chemistry between the two to Fincher, not to their acting. The original movie did a better job of fleshing out each character’s background and motivation. We understood why they were drawn to each other and why Lisbeth was so broken after all that she’d endured. She was a tormented character, and that was not conveyed as ably in the remake.
Perhaps if I hadn’t seen the original version I could let this one stand on its own merits, but I just can’t. Some things are better left untouched. When I watched the original I felt like I was watching something special; it was enthralling. This 2011 version was just another day at the movies: good, but not great. Try to see the Swedish version first, if you haven’t read the book. 2009 version: A+ 2011 version: B