The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Film review by: Witney Seibold
There is a weird overlap between Goth and cuddly. Some of the women who pierce their nipples, wear standoffish leather outfits, and listen to aggressive heavy metal music sometimes tend to have a stuffed animal collection on their beds, or be really fond of Disney movies. Walk into a Hot Topic sometime if you doubt me.
I think the a large part of the appeal of the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009), which was a huge hit in book form and caused a stir in film form, was the bold strength of Lisbeth Salander, played then by Noomi Rapace. In the original film, Lisbeth was kind of a recluse who lived on junkfood, and resented that she was reliant on government handouts (handouts that would, ultimately, make her the target of a rapist). She was a strong punkrock superhero with computer hacking skills, weird friends, and the skills to aggressively pick up any man or woman she chose. She was a naturally badass kind of character. Her spiky outer shell was a shield of fuck-yous, gradually built up after a childhood of abuse, and a carefully cultivated disdain for society at large. She was mean and violent, but resolute. In this new version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” remade only two years after the fact in English in what is, at least in my mind, a clear moneygrab for a larger American audience, Lisbeth (now played by relative newcomer Rooney Mara) is less of a strong violent punker, and more of a wounded puppy. Her spiky bisexual Goth exterior this time seems to mask a gentle lamb inside, a lamb that is only looking for cuddly comfort and the right man. There are only a few visual cues in the film to indicate this, but I think it’s definitely there. There is a scene, for example, late in the film, when Lisbeth has just bedded Mikael, and she happily accepts smooches and light touches from him in post-coital afterglow. In the first film, she wasn’t much of an afterglow kind of girl.
So, yes, David Fincher, who has made some truly excellent films in his career, has now given us an unfortunately trite retread of a lot of what we have already seen in the 2009 film. The films’ stories are nearly identical, and a lot of the visuals are transposed directly. I hate to write a review that merely compares this film to the last, but the last was so fresh in my mind, and so present in the popular consciousness, that I feel it’s the only way to look at it.
The story, just so I can do my critical duty: Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig), recently disgraced by some bad journalism, has been hired by the aging patriarch (Christopher Plummer) of a remote wealthy family, to investigate the kidnapping-or-perhaps-murder of his niece some decades ago. Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander secretly spies on Mikael and aids him in subtle ways. She is also on the government dole, causing her fat, unappealing government go-between to take sexual advantage of her in exchange for her rightful monies. Lisbeth is notably raped, and subsequently gets some rather graphic revenge.
This bugged me a little: The film takes place in Sweden, all the characters are still Swedish, but they all speak English. Some have Swedish accents, but some don’t. When they read storefront signs, they are in Swedish, but when they read from books, it’s in English. The lack of continuity drove me a little crazy.
The sex and violence in this film are no more or less graphic than they were in the last version, but they do seem a lot more lurid this time around. Fincher filmed the scenes in a particularly shocking fashion, adding perhaps a touch more blood, or a bit closer eye to sexual detail. Before, the sex and violence seem to spring a bit more naturally from the story. This time, they seem like intermissions from the story (as sex and violence typically do in American films). So rather than being caught up in the fact that Lisbeth is seducing Mikael, we are more focused on the way she styles her pubic hair. Oddly, in being bolder, the film feels more shy.
Niels Arden Oplev, the director of the original, seemed to have a better eye as to what (I imagine) the tone of the book to be; that is to say it was an airport novel. It was a lurid thriller with some awesome characters, a twist ending, and a serial killer to track down. The literal translation of Stieg Larsson’s book was Men Who Hate Women, so there was also a powerful feminist undercurrent. Fincher’s version, for all its literary fealty (I’ve been informed by my wife that this version cleaves closer to the events of the book) and attention to gore and sexual detail, feels more rote, less dynamic and oddly flat. What’s more, since Lisbeth was seen as someone trying to be invisible, rather than someone who was trying to give a big middle finger to all she met, the feminism was a bit weakened as well.
If you’ve never seen the original film, you may get caught up in the taut story and twists and turns. You’ll like the cobalt-blue photography, and Fincher’s usual panache. But this is not Fincher in high gear. This is his director-for-hire work, churning out a good but unremarkable thriller.
I apologize for the wry cynicism, but there you are.