Home > Film > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

For anyone who’s been living with his or her head in a bucket over the last three years, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is the second attempt to film the Millennium trilogy written by Stieg Larsson, this time with a script by Steven Zaillian. The first book, Män som hatar kvinnor (literally meaning Men Who Hate Women), is now known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in both written and visual formats. It’s been dominating the crime fiction market around the world since the translations first appeared in 2008.

Daniel Craig looking studious

 

For the purposes of this review, I need to state my prejudices up front. I entered the cinema with the opinion this remake was likely to be inferior to the original. Not surprisingly, I left convinced I had just sat through an unnecessary film. Although this version differs in some respects from the Swedish original, I’ve no sense these differences are improvements. The only advantage derived from this $90 million production, including its quite expensive cast, is that the figures on screen speak in English, thereby avoiding the need for the audience to be comfortable with subtitles. However, so loud was the music soundtrack that I sometimes could not clearly hear what was said, missing the subtitles to help me out. Yet, in the back of my mind, there lurks the suspicion that, if I had not seen the original, I might think this a good film. This is annoying but, since I cannot wind back time and unremember what I saw, I am forced into the inconvenient game of having to try to be fair when comparing the two.

 

The first and most obvious impression you gain as this film starts is you have begun watching one of those smooth Hollywood features. The credits are particularly elegant and, although I have reached rarified levels of old age, there was a not unenjoyable electronic music soundtrack, both pop and more abstract. The direction from David Fincher proves slick and the cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth cleverly manages to desaturate the colours without going over the top in the winter and key indoor scenes. So, with all the production values, this has the look-and-feel of a major studio offering. In itself, this is not a bad thing. It merely signals the director and all those involved are aware of their target audience and their prejudices.

Rooney Mara playing the cuddly version of Lisbeth

 

So, ignoring details, what has changed? Putting it bluntly, this is a sanitised film. Although we have the same basic elements of fellatio, anal rape, the revenge tattooing, both hetero- and homosexual bed scenes, and incest, there’s a distinct effort made to tone it down. This may surprise those of you who have not seen the original, but that clearly earned its R certificate. This is rather more discreet, setting up the scenes or topics, and then hinting at rather than showing the detail. The Nazi element is distinctly underplayed. Indeed, there’s only one passing reference to the anti-Semitism as one of the two motives for the earlier killings. As to those killings, the details are also rather glossed over. It’s quick quotes from the Bible, a few crime scene photographs, Lisbeth talking to local police officers, and a shot of the outside of a barn. Curiously, Sweden has been through an aggressive spring clean. In physical terms, it’s better lit, there’s less rubbish lying around and, consequently, city scenes are much less threatening. We also lack the pervasive air of sexism that represents a danger to unconventional women when they appear in public (as you will understand from the title of the novel, this film version is supposed to be about men’s behaviour towards women). I’m left with the conclusion the American market cannot stomach anything too graphic, is moderately puritanical about sex, prefers not to confront sexism, and is completely allergic to any explicit racism.

Christopher Plummer dictating notes on acting to Daniel Craig

 

On the acting front, Daniel Craig turns in a pleasingly restrained performance as Mikael Blomkvist. He proves to be moderately convincing as an investigator and analyst with the script allowing him to be moderately computer-literate so he can manipulate the photographic evidence to get the desired results. No doubt his female fans will be pleased with the amount of time he spends without too many clothes interfering with the view. On balance, this is impressive. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Rooney Mara. This is not the same dangerous Lisbeth Salander, both physically and intellectually, we see with Noomi Rapace. If anything, Rooney Mara comes over as passive-aggressive, preferring to avoid eye contact, and avoiding excess in dress. Indeed, she’s actively caring for her previous judicial custodian and is the one looking to make the running in a relationship with Mikael Blomkvist. She’s definitely a more vulnerable human being than the person who dominates the screen in the original. As a point of contrast, there’s little in our first view of Rooney Mara when she meets with Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to suggest she can be a chameleon, able to adopt a different persona and pass herself off as a high-flying executive in the offices of international banks and financial institutions. Yet there’s no doubt Noomi Rapace has more than enough self-confidence to steal a sizeable chunk of Wennerström’s illicitly acquired wealth. Her screen version of Lisbeth mocks the inadequate men around her and, when words are insufficient, she’s prepared to fight. In the original film, she kills the murderer. The remake resurrects a slightly different version of the novel’s ending where the murderer dies in a car “accident”. That’s consistent with the desire to protect this version of Lisbeth and not allow her to be a killer (although this would be manslaughter if the police could find evidence of her chasing the car). Stellan Skarsgård is pleasing as Martin Vanger with the ever-reliable Christopher Plummer as the patriarch who sets the ball rolling.

Stellan Skarsgard enjoying desaturated colours

 

The production focusses on Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara with most of the other roles relegated to extended walk-ons. Frankly, I found this quite long to sit through at 158 minutes. In this I note the original is only a few minutes shorter, but it packs more punch and has less interest in the aftermath of the investigation. Although Daniel Craig comes out of this well, Rooney Mara is very disappointing. So The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is a stylish if somewhat flashy Hollywood film with music that’s sometimes too loud and a somewhat eviscerated version of the plot. In toning the story down for the domestic American box office, I feel the best parts of the original have been thrown away. But it seems to be earning back the money invested, so enough people are paying to see it and word-of-mouth is not killing attendance. To that extent, the production team must be congratulated. They have pitched a film at their market. Those of us who fail to share this myopic culture can only shake our heads in sadness. Americans deny themselves so much by refusing to see foreign-language films, particularly when they deal with sexual and racial themes. In some respects, I think this isolationism dangerous because there’s little understanding of the world outside their borders. Unless the USA tones down its militarism, this will only lead to more misunderstandings and increasing alienation.

 

For reviews of other films and television programs by Yellow Bird:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)
The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden (2009)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
Headhunters or Hodejegerne (2011)
Wallander: Before the Frost (2012)
Wallander: The Dogs of Riga (2012)
Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012)
Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)
Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

  1. Nana
    January 25, 2012 at 12:04 am

    This is exactly how I felt after watching the movie. I have watched the Sweden version and fallen in love with Lisbeth for being strongly controlling her life. She didn’t run after any man because she hardly trusted anyone. American version changed Lisbeth’s original characteristic in a negative way. All what I saw was a weak and passive Lisbeth. Very disappointing.

    • January 25, 2012 at 12:39 am

      Unfortunately, this tame version of Lisbeth is what’s expected for the American market. There are real limits on what film-makers can show as being part of a female heroine’s character. The internal strength and independence we see in the original performance by Noomi Rapace would never attract the crowds to the cinema. She’s too dangerous.

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