In film circles there’s that age old remake question: How do you take something that already has a following and in one sweep appease fans of the original and bring on a whole new audience? Well, most directors would find themselves painted in a corner, but not David Fincher. With his first stab at a remake he effectively translates this dark and unsavory story into something that really pulls you into the mix and rises above being another bland retread. He can chalk up another win to his near perfect scorecard but he’s only half of the equation that makes this work. Noomi Rapace is a very tough act to follow and at first the quaint Rooney Mara might seem incapable of embodying Lisbeth Salander. For this to work you really need someone to fully and convincingly embody that role. Enter one Rooney Mara who little by little shows she has the smarts and brass knuckle determination to back up Lisbeth’s rugged looks. After all the film is called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, not The Girl Who Quietly Sits At Her Computer right?
After writing a revealing and finger-pointing expose on an infamous successful tycoon, journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s reputation has been tarnished from the litigious backlash. His mistake was trusting an unknown source for such a high profile and inflammatory article but despite the rookie misstep he’s still a very detail oriented and gifted investigator. So gifted is he that regardless of his present professional shaming he’s been hired to investigate the relative of a wealthy businessman who has been missing for forty years. A very taxing assignment to say the least but Mikael is not alone in his quest. He is aided by the enigmatic but brilliant young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. The two begin to uncover the family’s darkest secrets and all too soon find themselves enveloped in the madness that’s been kept hidden all these years.
Fincher loves the slow boat approach but like always, it’s done with purpose. He takes the time to establish the story and that gives the characters a substantive weight. Steven Zaillian very faithfully tells the same Stieg Larsson story only he gives more fulfilling space between the events helping give a more realistic but still engaging cinematic quality. Larsson’s characters were rich to begin with but Zaillian gives them much more depth. However the manual labor is up to Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara to bring their roles to full vigor which they do in spades. Daniel Craig plays it reserved and has to as he’s most certainly out of his league in the story. He centers the film but Rooney Mara as Lisbeth brings a wild electricity that’s hypnotic and continually raises the bar set by Noomi Rapace.
Having done an Oscar-worthy job for Fincher last time, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross return to create a soundtrack that is perfectly in tune with the story. Combined with Fincher’s visuals (his slightly de-saturated but rich color palette) the duo gives the story its almost dreamlike quality. Their score provides the necessary ominous and surreal undertone as Reznor and Ross put themselves, out-of-tune instruments and all, right in your face from minute one. Further, even though the intro itself doesn’t really correlate to the tone or pace of the story, their hard-edged style is put to good use in the very NIN inspired credits sequence.
One huge variable going in was whether or not Rooney Mara could handle the role made famous by Noomi Rapace. At first glance she doesn’t seem right in the role. But like any element in film that is given enough time to develop, by the end of the movie any doubts you had about Mara playing Lisbeth are gone completely and the movie really becomes all about her and how capable she is. As Lisbeth is a mysterious character that almost screams the need for a back story, her character’s transformation demands your attention and by the time all is said and done the desire to know about her past is replaced by a biting desire to know about her future. In the film’s final moments you’ll find yourself not wanting it to end as the 2 hour and 45 minute run-time is so deceptively swift you wouldn’t mind doing it again just to see more of Lisbeth.
Yet for all the good there’s one underlying issue that keeps Fincher’s remake from being really noteworthy. Don’t get me wrong, the film was really good but just didn’t blow me away. While Fincher & Co give this their all (acting, framing, narrative, tone etc. are top notch) the fact that this film is a near doppelganger makes watching it just a bit strange. With so much attention to detail in replicating the look and tone of the original you start to think you’re watching the dub of the original as opposed to a remake. Not to say that’s a bad thing or that Fincher make this film unnecessarily but usually the idea of a remake is to improve/expand on an established story not check the quality of your copy machine. Still that’s still a relatively small knock in a film that, despite the opinions of this writer, fires on all cylinders.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a slick, stylish and methodical thriller. Fincher masterfully crafts this intense and reverent remake but still succeeds in making the story his own. His and Zaillian’s take on the popular novel plays to their strengths and they truly improve on the novel’s structural weaknesses. As far as remakes go, the odds are usually not in favor of any newcomer but Fincher has created something that is not only a very effective translation but, more importantly, makes this a story worth re-telling. If the success of the film does lead to audiences getting remakes of the last two legs in this trilogy it would be great to see Fincher at the helm but even more exciting to see this new Lisbeth play with fire. But that’s getting ahead of the point. For now, take time to enjoy and relish this trip down the rabbit hole into Fincher’s cold, unflinching and fascinatingly nihilistic world.