I very much liked the original Swedish film based upon Stieg Larsson's book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Unfortunately, I don't like David Fincher's Americanized version. It's one of the dumbest film projects of 2011, a movie whose very existence constitutes a major waste of good, creative energy.
I don't see the logic in remaking the Swedish film so soon—especially when the American remake is set in Sweden. It irritates me that Fincher, one of our finest directors, has dedicated a big chunk of his time to a film that feels like a mere re-creation of director Niels Arden Oplev's 2009 original.
Given that blood still pumps mightily through the veins of actress Noomi Rapace, replacing her with a far-less-remarkable American actress is a major misstep. Rapace has proven with the recent Sherlock Holmes sequel and the upcoming Prometheus that she speaks English well and is capable of fronting a big-budget American picture.
Watching the redone-but-not-really Tattoo, I was reminded of Gus Van Sant's silly attempt to remake Psycho, in which Vince Vaughn replaced Anthony Perkins, and Van Sant re-created virtually every shot of the original. It, too, was ultimately a useless exercise.
Fincher takes a few detours from the original, including a stranger and messier ending, but overall, the film delivers the same scenes and plot points. This movie was apparently made under the assumption that most Americans don't watch foreign films, and that Fincher's version would be many viewers' first foray into Larsson's dark territories. Well, a lot of people did watch the original, and I'm thinking that many of those people will be annoyed by this film.
The plot centers on troubled journalist Mikael (Daniel Craig), who, while facing jail time for a story he wrote, moonlights by helping a grieving man (Christopher Plummer) find a woman who has been missing for 40 years. Mikael isn't getting it done on his own, so he enlists the help of computer-hacker and private-investigator Lisbeth Salander.
In the central role of Salander is Rooney Mara, an actress who has failed to impress in the past. She did OK with her few minutes in Fincher's The Social Network, but she was awful in another pale remake of a great movie, A Nightmare on Elm Street. In my review of the Freddy Krueger redux, I said this: "Mara seems genuinely uninterested in the craft of acting. The energy gets sucked out of the movie whenever she's on screen." Yeah, I wasn't impressed.
If there's any good news regarding Mara, it's that her work has improved. As Salander, Mara certainly looks the part: She has jet-black, oddly placed hair; bone-white skin; lots of (real) piercings; and that infamous tattoo on the shoulder. Like Rapace, she spends a good portion of the film naked, and like Rapace, she does naked well.
Mara is serviceable in the role, but Rapace had a lot more going on behind her eyes. She just seemed more wounded, something that suits this anxious computer-hacker. Allegedly, there was a campaign for Rapace to reprise the role, but she apparently turned down the chance to do it again (so says the Internet Movie DataBase).
So if Rapace was not an option, why did filmmakers do the remake like this? If you are going to Americanize something, why not set it in America, instead of saddling your lead actress with a thick, weird, accent? This is essentially the same movie with performers speaking English rather than Swedish. Set it in, say, San Francisco, and at least the film would have a new setting and approach.
Plummer is solid as the man searching for a long-lost relative. Meanwhile, Stellan Skarsgård occupies a role from the prior film and takes it to new heights. He's great in this movie. We also get Robin Wright as Craig's co-editor at the paper.
I suspect that this film might become a flop; it came out of the box office rather slowly on Christmas weekend. Hopefully, Fincher will be forced to do something else and skip the sequels. Even the Swedish versions of the sequels had diminishing returns; the final film in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, had an awful story, and I would hate to see Fincher waste his time on it.
For the uninitiated (meaning those who never saw the Swedish version), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo might be passably good. It's shot well; it has a Trent Reznor soundtrack that is only mildly distracting; and it features good-looking naked people in it. For those who did see the original, there's nothing new for you—other than a far-less-interesting actress in the central role.