Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is extremely well-made, ably acted, beautifully shot and has a plot full of hairpin turns and twists. It is an entirely engaging and occasionally gripping film. It is also completely unnecessary.

This remake of the 2009 Swedish thriller based on the novel by Stieg Larsson contains no surprises for those who have seen the original. The identity of the killer is already known; the final disposition of the brilliant and possibly crazy title character, Lisbeth Salander, drains the character of much of the razor-sharp freshness from when Noomi Rapace played her.

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig bring a few notes of their own to the roles of Lisbeth and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, but ultimately it's the same characters experiencing the same dynamic.

The really is no reason for the existence of this movie. Everything the American version does, the Swedish original already did equally well, or better.

Well, there is one reason I can think of for the remake: so Americans who don't like reading subtitles will buy tickets for it. That may be harsh and cynical, but there it is.

The story (screenplay by Steve Zaillian) wanders deep into the thickets of familial secrets and horrible behavior behind the doors of old-money mansions. So did the Swedish version, as both movies spend way too much time with Lisbeth and Mikael hunched over computer screens, staring at photos and waiting for clues to present themselves.

At just over 2½ hours, "Girl" can feel self-indulgent and sprawling.

The two main characters remain separated for nearly half the film, only joining forces when their objectives align. Recently disgraced after being found guilty of libeling a major industrialist, Mikael is recruited by a rich old magnate, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to track down the killer of his niece Harriet, who disappeared 40 years ago.

Lisbeth is the computer hacker hired to vet Mikael for the Vangers. Decked out in punk leather togs, multiple facial piercings and a dead-eyed stare, everything about Lisbeth screams, "Leave me alone."

(In one medium-ish change from the original movie, Lisbeth is not monitoring the ongoing doings of Mikael, but only becomes involved when he tracks her down and asks for help. This has the effect of making Mikael, who is by far the more passive person in the tale, seem more proactive and assertive.)

The entire Vanger family occuppies a lonely island in frozen Hedestad, and Mikael settles in to investigate Harriet's disappearance. With the clan filled with drunks, thieves and Nazis, the number of suspects is voluminous. Most want him gone; only Martin (Stellan Skarsgard), Harriet's older brother, is welcoming and helpful.

Lisbeth has her own problems. Formerly institutionalized, she's subject to a state-appointed guardian, who refuses to let her have access to her own money without ... considerations proffered. This extended sequence, while technically distracting from the plot, establishes Lisbeth as both frequent victim and ferocious victimizer.

Eventually, they team up to try to pierce the Vanger mystery. Mikael, the older, deliberate investigator, has a great deal of trouble getting inside Lisbeth's head. She's a bona fide genius, who eschews emotional attachments in all forms of human contact.

Director David Fincher, fresh off the success of last year's brilliant "The Social Network," adds a few wrinkles -- such as the exact way in which the final revelation plays out, and how Lisbeth and Mikael leave things between them. These changes aren't necessarily better or worse, and their only purpose appears to be something Fincher can point to in order to justify such a rote remake.

So why three stars for this movie? I respect the craft with which it was made, and can't deny that somebody unfamiliar with the original film will find it as darkly invigorating as I did the Swedish version.

What I'd really like is for this director, this screenwriter and these two stars to make another, original movie on their own. It'd have been a better use of their time, and mine.

3 stars out of four

1 comment:

  1. Nicely reviewed. I thought the plot is very cleverly done, and all those details lock together into a seriously impressive story.