You’d think that after getting prison-fisted out of a much-deserved Best Director Oscar and with The Social Network losing Best Picture to that stuffy British Costume drama where Colin Firth went F-f-f-full retard, Fight Club and Seven director David Fincher would respond by making some banal and transparent piece of Oscar bait involving…the Holocaust…illiteracy…Southern black maids in the 50s…getting raped in a bar and having Kelly McGillis defend you…the Holocaust…slavery, and INSERT YOUR OWN AWARD-MAGNET TOPIC ________ and just call it For Your Consideration.
But Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as far away from December Oscarbation (poor kitty!) as you can get, unless there’s an award for Best Sodomy. Tattoo is one of the best thrillers of the year and more than holds its own with (and in some ways trumps) the acclaimed Swedish original. I can’t say how faithful they are to the Steig Larsson books as I’ve never read them.
Fortunately, I wrote a review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo DVD about a year and a half ago, and since the plot is mostly the same (we’ll get to the changes later) I’m just going to copy and paste…because I’m lazy.
I need a moment to pull up my old review so I can paste…now
The movie opens with an old man getting the mail. That in itself doesn’t seem very exciting, but what’s inside the mail? A framed flower. That also doesn’t seem very exciting, but it’s sending the old man into shivers, and not just because he’s old and wet himself an hour ago and forgot to tell his au pair about it.
The movie opens a second time with crusading journalist Blomkvist, Mikhail Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, commanding in the less interesting, underwritten role) getting convicted and sentenced to prison. You see, he and his magazine Millennium charged a very powerful businessman with some wrongdoing, but couldn’t make the conviction hold. Micke was set up, but that doesn’t matter because Mr. Bigwig has connections up his Swedish yang, and Micke has nothing but his integrity. Yeah, that’ll get you far…like a jail sentence. Plus, he still needs to be punished for Dream House and Cowboys and Aliens. Micke has about six months before he has to go to jail, so all he needs is an unsolved mystery to keep his mind off prison, because you know what they do to reporters in prison…
(Actually, No. What do they do to reporters in Swedish prisons?)
I’m not sure, but the point is that nobody wants to get sent to the pokey. And nobody wants to be embarrassed in the national media, which is exactly what’s happening to Micke. Cameras are flashing all around him, but in the background we focus on a girl on a motorcycle who seems to be taking a distanced interest in Micke. Odd, she looks exactly like the girl on the movie poster. I’ll bet when she’s naked later in the movie she’ll have some body art shaped like a mythical winged creature on her back.
That girl with the leather jacket and the pierced nose is Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, in the fiercest performance by anyone named Rooney and the best part of that dreadful Nightmare On Elm Street remake), and she just happens to be an expert hacker working for Milton Securities. Amidst the hubbub, Milton has been doing secret background checks on Micke. What have they found out? That Mikael Blomkvist is a stand up guy, despite being flayed by the media. What could this mean?
It means that Mikael Blomkvist is the perfect person for a job which requires discretion and a knack for noticing little details. That old man from the beginning of the movie is named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) and he likes what he sees regarding Micke.
Yeah, Henrik of the megapowerful Vanger family, those that own and run the Vanger Group. Oh, you’ve never heard of them because you don’t live in Sweden or you’ve never read the books. They’re only the most prestigious family in all of Sweden, like the Kennedys in their heyday but way more unstable, and Henrik at the present moment is at the head of it, unless the other Vangers have their way.
Henrik wants Micke to do a little favor on the DL for him. His niece Harriet has been missing and presumed dead for the past 40 years. She used to like flowers, and every year on his birthday, Henrik has been receiving a framed flower in the mail, presumably from Harriet’s killer. That’s messed up, especially when the return address says “Harriet’s Killer.” It’s even sent COD. What a dick…
Since Micke’s going to jail in a couple of months and wants to distance himself from Millennium despite the fact that he’s balling the editor (Robin Wright), he might as well earn some Vanger money as they’ve got a lot of it. Might as well live on the Vanger estate too.
No 40-year missing persons/murder case is a simple one, especially when it concerns the Vangers. Most of them hate each other and only tolerate each others’ existence because they all have a stake in the Vanger Group. Henrik seems the most stable, while his brothers and their offspring have ties to the Nazis. Yes, actual Nazis with swastikas and Goose-step training DVDs. The oldest brother Anakin even became Darth Vanger.
All of them had a motive to want Harriet gone. Hell, some of them don’t need one and are just fucked in the head. All the Vangers know that Micke is living on the estate and why, and most aren’t very happy with it. Some of them might be so inclined to do something about it.
It might be too much for a middle-aged journalist to take, especially if he wants to keep his head on his shoulders. Good thing Lisbeth’s continued to hack into his computer as she may be able to give him clues Micke’s just too close to see. Maybe these two should just hook up already and solve Harriet’s disappearance, though Micke should be warned that Lisbeth’s got a pantload of problems all her own, enough of them to possibly be send her to the Rooney bin.
All of this should seem familiar, as the Millennium trilogy seems to be either watched or owned by every 3rd person you know, so let the obscure Biblical quotes and animal mutilation begin…
That was easy. I should review movies twice more often.
What works with the NEW Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–
1) The chemistry between Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara is actually more believable than the Michael Nyqvist/Noomi Rapace pairing in the original. Not sure if this is because this Lisbeth is a couple of shades softer and less chilly than her Swedish counterpart, but when Lisbeth and Micke eventually do get closer, it doesn’t feel as forced and perfunctory as it does in the version with subtitles…which also makes the closing shot more touching than you’d expect from a movie featuring a golden dildo.
2) And speaking of Mara as Lisbeth, she takes what could/should have been a thankless role and makes it enough of her own to forget about Noomi Rapace as soon as she appears onscreen. I wrote that Lisbeth’s a little softer, but she’s no less badass. And, Mara’s Swedish accent is a lot more believable than Rapace’s Gypsy one in Sherlock Holmes 2, just in case you can’t help but compare. I’m sure Mara could ask Craig a thing or two about stepping into the shoes of a preconceived character.
3) That Trent Reznor/Karen O cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song that plays over the year’s best opening credits.
4) Enya – Now you won’t associate her with Dentist’s offices, Elevators, or AM radio. Though don’t be surprised if you soil yourself the next time you hear her on your daily elevator ride.
5) The slight alterations (by Oscar-Winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian) to the story actually have the movie make a little more sense and a lot more suspenseful since, for the first time, fans of the original or the books don’t know exactly what’s coming.
What doesn’t work-
1) After a breezy 2.5 hours…it ends.
2) Even after repeated viewings/readings, you still need a schematic to follow all the Vangers and their relation to each other as well as their relation to the story. More than once you wish for an extended shot of the chart the Blomkvist has in his house, though because you’re so invested in the present moment, you know you’re going to catch up eventually. This is where you’re grateful that Zaillian and Fincher refer to the Vangers and their ties almost a half dozen times.
Overall. Most remakes suck. Everyone knows this. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t. Don’t whine like a bitch about how bad remakes are and then not watch them when they’re good.