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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

By Joe Lozito

Swede and Lowdown


The opening credit sequence of David Fincher's slick Americanization of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" possesses all the style and darkness that should define the remainder of the film. Set to a driving techno cover of "Immigrant Song" by Karen O, and peopled with morphing bodies that seem to be made of cables and oil, it plays like the intro to some unholy alternate-universe James Bond film. Then the movie starts and we are thrust into an oddly Americanized version of Stieg Larsson's very Swedish Millennium trilogy (of which this is the first novel).

Those who know the books or saw the (superior) 2009 Swedish film adaptation will recognize what follows: disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) undertakes the investigation of a decades-old missing persons case involving the wealthy Vanger family on an island in northern Sweden. His sleuthing leads him down a rabbit hole involving serial murders and a punk computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander.

The book was originally titled "Men Who Hate Women" but was repackaged under the more audience-friendly "Girl with..." moniker (much as the subtitled Swedish film was repackaged here). The story is a clever whodunit wrapped in page after page of Swedish business machinations.

Writer Steven Zaillian does an admirable job condensing the book's interminable first 80 pages into about 5 scenes, but the film's 158-minute running time is still far too long. And none of it succeeds in explaining why the American version was made to begin with, particularly when the Swedish original seems far more, dare I say it, authentic.

If nothing else, the Fincher "Tattoo" succeeds in justifying the book's original Swedish backdrop. By setting this new adaptation in Sweden and casting English-speaking actors - speaking in uniformly vague, pan-European accents - Fincher's version lacks grounding and - worse - resonance. If it had been re-set in, say, New England and involved a wealthy American family, that might be been interesting - but it also would have taken more work.

None of this takes away from the impressive production design or the film's pedigreed cast. Christopher Plummer is a hoot as family patriarch Henrik Vanger. And Stellan Skarsgård, who probably had his pick of roles, fits in nicely as Henrik's nephew and second in command. Daniel Craig leaves Bond by the wayside as the beleaguered Blomkvist, but it's Rooney Mara that has the highest hill to climb as Salander. The young actress commits to the difficult role fully, but - either due to her acting or the sanitized script - her Salander possesses little of the danger that made Noomi Rapace's performance so memorable in the Swedish series. Rather than "socially incompetent" or "insane", this Lisbeth just comes off as really, really cynical.

Particularly unfortunate are the by-now notorious scenes in which Lisbeth suffers at the hands of her state-appointed guardian (Yorick van Wageningen). Rather than shocking or horrific, here they seem almost perfunctory. Yes, what happens to her is awful, but the clinical and downright speedy nature with which it's handled gives it no gravity. And the casting of Mr. van Wageningen doesn't help, as he comes across as almost comically unqualified to go up against Lisbeth.

The film is the very definition of an Americanization. We can be thankful that Larsson's signature vices (cigarettes and coffee) haven't been toned down for American sensibilities (a la ABC's "Pan Am" series) but, sadly, the iconic Salander character has been. Here, she dresses the role, but she's far to quick to play house with Blomkvist. And their relationship - so wonderfully undefined and complex in the novel - is reduced to the worst kind of pillow talk.

This film was not made by men who hate women, but certainly by men who are more comfortable with women as love interests for male heroes. Then again the film was also not made for audiences who want to be shocked, but really for Americans who hate subtitles.

What did you think?

Movie title The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Release year 2011
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Surprisingly sanitized version of the Swedish blockbuster has little resonance in this Americanized form. Stick with with Swedish version - both book and film.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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