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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by on December 20, 2011
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A remake worthy of its predecessor, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is tight and taut — a film that, if you’ve read the books or seen the original films, won’t surprise you with new information but should engage and entertain you all the same.

It’s been wondered aloud by several people, including the Yap’s own Chris Lloyd, why this film is necessary. The original Swedish film is pretty outstanding in its own right and just came out a year ago.

So why the remake already, casting Hollywood movie stars like Daniel Craig and (burgeoning ones like) Rooney Mara, who impressed in films like “The Social Network”?

Well, the answer, of course, isn’t anything profound. Hollywood thinks you, the moviegoer, don’t like movies that come from other countries and have neither the patience nor the intelligence to read subtitles. So, for your convenience, they remade the film in our image.

This is of course a valid criticism, but it’s more one of our society than of Hollywood, or particularly this film, which, though it insults our intelligence before a single frame of film runs through the projector (OK, yes, we’re in the digital age; stick with me here), at least has the grace and courtesy to not do so once it begins rolling. They chose David Fincher to direct, and he crafts a dynamite flick that’s both whip-smart and popcorn-cinema fare, a heady yet accessible flick that can appeal to the high-minded and the masses alike.

Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a high-profile investigative journalist in Sweden fresh off tasting the losing end of a rather nasty, public libel trial. Though disgraced, Blomkvist told the truth but lost the trial nonetheless and is contemplating leaving his post as a magazine editor.

He is approached by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the patriarch of a super-wealthy family, with a job offer: Find the killer of his beloved niece, who disappeared without a trace from what is ostensibly the family’s private island 40 years prior.

Of course, a case that cold is unlikely to produce anything meaningful, but Blomkvist takes the job anyway as a chance to step away from his shame and maybe, just maybe, do something good.

Meanwhile, young hacker Lisbeth Salander (Mara) is having troubles of her own. Long a ward of the Swedish state, Lisbeth’s caretaker has a stroke, thrusting her back into the system and into the not-so-loving arms of Bjurman (Yorick von Wageningen), a cruel social worker who relishes the chance to wield power over a woman so young and rebellious.

Lisbeth works as an investigator of sorts. She’s a brilliant hacker often employed by firms to find the most private details of clients. Vanger employed her to do a background check on Blomkvist, which inexplicably connects her to the case. Blomkvist, both irked by the intrusion and impressed at what she finds, recruits her to help him.

If you’re familiar with the story, there won’t be many surprises, but for those who aren’t, it is a fun game of whodunit and has some nice twists and turns. One of my favorite aspects of the film is that Fincher resists the urge to Americanize the names and locales of the action. They’re still in Sweden and have Swedish names; they just speak in English.

Mara is spectacular as Lisbeth, keeping all of her affectations from her piercings and tattoos (including, of course, the titular one) to her emotional instability. Mara brings both toughness and vulnerability to the role.

Craig also gives a terrific performance, shedding his James Bond persona for a more scholarly one. He isn’t as physically imposing as his Bond, as we see in a few sequences.

The film’s mystery is still engaging and interesting, and the exotic locale only adds to the intrigue. The resolution is a tad easy perhaps, but Fincher riffs just a touch, bringing in a thread or two from the books not explored in the original films and expanding them a little.

“Tattoo” brings back to the forefront the discussion of remakes and when it is appropriate to remake a film. After many years? When there’s a new take on the material?

It’s certainly not unprecedented. Michael Haneke directed the English-language remake of his own film “Funny Games” a few years back. And while it’s perhaps unnecessary in that sense, the other side of the discussion is that this will spur some people who haven’t seen the original film to seek out the original, and, maybe, just maybe, change a few attitudes about foreign films.