David Fincher’s adaptation/remake of Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. While the film doesn’t open until December 23rd, the embargo against reviews lifts today. Unlike some publications, we abide by such agreements here.
Disclaimer: This may not be a popular thing to admit, but hear me out for a moment because I believe that I have a valid point. Whenever I’m presented with the choice between a foreign film or an Americanized remake of that same property, I prefer to watch the remake first. Go ahead and call me heretic, a biased bigot or whatever you want, but I have a reason for this. Every culture has its own style and manner of storytelling. Styles that work in some countries do not always work in others, and foreigners will often miss important story details due to cultural differences. I tend to prefer the Americanized remakes because they’re better polished for the culture in which I live. That’s not to say that I don’t like foreign films; I just find American movies easier to connect with. Make sense?
Just as I was about to watch the original Swedish film adaptation of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘, I learned that David Fincher was in the process of remaking the same property. Therefore, I held off from watching the Swedish version. To this day, I still haven’t seen it. I’ll eventually get to it once I’ve gotten through some Blu-ray reviews and awards screeners.
I’m also not much of a reader, so I went into Fincher’s movie knowing little about the story beyond those parts shown in the eight-minute extended trailer. Considering how hyped the book is and how much love my critic friends have for the Swedish movie, I expected a lot more from what I saw. Hopefully, watching the original movie will show me exactly what has made this such a beloved book and film series.
I want to break my review down into two general areas: the story and the filmmaking.
The story behind ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is far from what I expected. Everyone talks about how edgy the books and movies are, but aside from two graphic scenes, the picture isn’t as gritty as I expected it to be. I was surprised that it turned out to be nothing more than a murder mystery with really well-developed characters. While the murder mystery is the story that drives this film, I found it to be the least interesting part. I loved learning about Lisbeth Salander’s character. She’s so deep and real. Even though she’s capable of horrible things, I want to know more about her, what makes her tick, and how she became the unpredictable young woman that she is. The sub-plot about Mikael Blomkvist losing a legal battle with a corrupt Goliath corporation is also thrilling, especially when it pops up again toward the end of the film.
Just like some of those many John Grisham novels that got made into movies in the ’90s, this film’s driving murder mystery may be the stuff that great page-turners are made of, but doesn’t quite carry the same intense force to the big screen. Again, this may work better in the original film, but in Fincher’s it’s just okay.
Filmmaking-wise, I also expected a lot more from David Fincher. ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Fight Club’ are two of my all-time favorite films. ‘Se7en’ and ‘Zodiac’ are also up there. But ‘Dragon Tattoo’ doesn’t have the same Fincher feel as the others. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still better than most movies out there, but we’ve learned to expect a lot more from Fincher than other directors. We hold him to a higher standard that just doesn’t seem to be met here.
After a quick intro scene, the movie kicks off with a loud James Bond-esque credits sequence set to the cover of “Immigrant’s Song” used in the film’s trailers. This intro is beautifully mesmerizing. You cannot peel your eyes away from it and don’t dare blink in fear of missing some amazing imagery. This is the same bold tone that the trailers have given off. Unfortunately, the heightened energy of this sequence isn’t followed-up with a scene that matches its power. It’s almost as if Fincher is banking on the “feel bad” marketing when only two scenes in the film actually match that tone and energy.
Visually, the movie looks great. The way that winter in Europe is portrayed on the big screen will make you feel the chill in your climate-controlled theater. The imagery is right up to par with Fincher’s best.
As for casting, Rooney Mara is fantastic as Lisbeth. I hear that Noomi Rapace is brilliant, so that’s another thing I look forward to in the original. But don’t discredit Mara as just a cute little girl doing Goth cosplay. She carries her own and does better than her co-star Daniel Craig. As always, Craig is fine, but he doesn’t stand out any more than a dozen other actors who could have played the role.
All in all, I genuinely like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, but I don’t think that it lives up to the hype that the fans have created nor the high standard that we expect from David Fincher. To me, this seems like a story that would be better read than watched.
When I came home from the super-secret screening, my wife asked: “So, was it everything you wanted it to be? Is it as awards-worthy as they’re making it out to be?” Truthfully, the movie left me wanting more – not a sequel necessarily, but I was a little unfulfilled. When the main story was resolved, I thought,“That’s it?” It’s a good thing that was followed-up with more about the evil corporation. As for the film being awards-worthy, maybe – but not nearly as much as I expected and nowhere near as much as I campaigned for ‘The Social Network’ last year. Mara is fantastic and the score is amazing, but that’s about all I will be considering ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for when my film critics’ circle votes next week.