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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

From their expressions, you'd think this was a very serious film.
Why so serious, huh?

dir: David Fincher

Isn’t everyone sick of these goddamn books and movies by now? Haven’t we been dealing with them long enough? Can’t we just let them go, and move on?

Apparently not, since they’re making American versions now, complete with American and British actors speaking with what they hope are Swedish accents. Why are they speaking with Swedish accents? Who the hell knows. We know they’re ‘speaking’ Swedish to themselves, it just ‘sounds’ English to us within the context of the flick, but why some of them would use Swedish Chef accents and some of them wouldn’t makes it all slightly perplexing.

I guess that’s appropriate, since these are meant to be mysteries. Of course, since I’ve read the books and seen the Swedish versions, which had those pesky subtitles and Swedish actors, there’s really no mystery there anymore. Making Hollywood versions presumably opens up a whole new audience of people who hate subtitles, which is a fair number of people. And since they enlisted David Fincher to direct, we know they’re going for the prestige angle, and not the trashy cash-in angle.

In a perfect world, they could do both, since all it does is keep those wretched Millennium books on the bestseller lists. But this isn’t a perfect world, so here we have the purest exploitative trash elevated yet again onto the big screen to honour our eyeballs and to make us lament that Stieg Larsson was ever born, let alone picked up a laptop and wrote these pot-boiling tales before thankfully dying.

The opening titles really stand out, in that they stamp the flick as a Fincher film, but they’re also ridiculously over the top, summarising visually the English titles, at least, of the three books, but also looking like the nastiest music video to grace the big screen. On top of that, the music is Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs screeching out the vocals to an electroshock version of Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. For the visuals, it’s all black liquid CGI that hilariously tries to remind us of something we already knew: that it’s An Important Film, and That David Fincher is Directing, someone who has experience making films about the murderous and the macabre.

I can’t imagine that there’s still anyone out there who doesn’t know what the plot is, but I’ll give it a tiny summary all the same: a disgraced journalist called Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is enlisted by a wealthy industrialist to find out what happened to his niece Harriet forty-five years ago. Specifically, he wants Blomkvist to figure out, by sifting through all of the family’s accumulated detritus, who killed Harriet.

Not coincidentally, an autistic punk hacker called Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who has plenty of her own problems, ends up being horribly abused, exacts horrible vengeance, and helps Blomkvist in his mission.

Along the way, Salander speaks with an accent that makes it sound like she has a mouthful of peanut butter, Blomkvist smokes a lot of cigarettes and drinks a lot of booze, and Sweden looks very cold. There’s exposition aplenty, but nowhere near the levels of the book and the Swedish versions, so Fincher and the writers deserve substantial credit (if ‘credit’ is the word I’m looking for) for finding ways to tell the story visually that obviate the need for all sorts of other bullshit that lazier filmmakers depend upon. The crucial sequence towards the end of the flick (and by ‘end’, I mean the point of the painfully long film that still has 45 minutes to go) where Blomkvist and Salander separately figure out who the ‘killer’ is, is particularly well done.

In most other flicks and tv series, those scenes would have had voiceover narration, some third party who’s not really interested politely listening and feigning interest as it’s all explained to them, and the general feel of filmmakers who assume their audience is too dumb to breath without assistance, let alone follow a turgidly simple plot like this.

If I can say any good things about this version, it’s that it makes substantial changes to the plot, which enhance the story and make it less, shall we say, ludicrous. It can only do so much with the source material, of course. You can’t make some beautiful silken purse out of a pig’s ear or rectum, but you can make something watchable, that agreeably passes the time.

Speaking of which, the horrific scenes that everyone knows are coming, between Salander and her state-appointed ‘protector’, are just as horrifying here. There’s no way, I guess, that these perverts would tell the story without those scenes, but I’m not sure what they add to anything. Our understanding of the character of Salander, or at least our partial knowledge of who she really is and how she came to be, doesn’t come until the second instalment in this monstrous trilogy, so mostly what those scenes give us is something I don’t think we really need. Surely they could have implied a lot of that stuff without having to show it, but I guess Fincher didn’t want to alienate the sadists and fans of sexual violence in the potential audience.

We’re meant to be horrified by what happens to her, and delighted by her vengeance, but neither says anything good about the story or about us.

I can’t really say that time passed agreeably, but it was, dare I say it, fascinating in certain parts. The Blomkvist character is dull, truth to tell, no matter who plays him, and Salander is a violent firecracker whose presence is hypnotic. It’s miles away from the characterisation Noomi Rapace assayed in the Swede versions. Rapace played it like a coiled snake just waiting to go on a rampage, and who has sex with everyone within arm’s reach. Rooney Mara plays it quite differently. She’s clearly intending to get across some more of the autism spectrum traits, but it’s fairly contradictory all the same. Sure, I guess she could be a sociopath and someone with a hefty case of Asperger’s, since the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but mostly it comes across as muchly convenient, since she is a fantastical creature from the beginning.

The plot itself was staggering in its banality, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the process of discovery. To me it seems like, even though this is impossible, Fincher wanted no part of this flick to look like the other one, and he didn’t want it to be too familiar even to those who are too familiar with the source material. In that he’s crafted it in a deliberate fashion so as to still be surprising to the jaded viewer. The changes, on the most part, work really well, even with the bones of the plot remaining intact.

Even for me, even knowing everything about these stories, it still managed to generate tension, and kept me enthralled, if not entranced, up until the end. There are also a few jokes squeezed into it that made me laugh, which don’t lighten the mood but which contribute a bit of a sly nod and a wink to the audience.

As an example, really early on Salander visits a monstrously obese hacker acquaintance called Plague, I think, who happens to be wearing a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, as Trent Reznor’s music plays delightfully over the soundtrack, since he and Atticus Ross seem to be doing all of Fincher’s soundtracks these days, especially since they won the Oscar for the soundtrack to The Social Network. Later on, a character describes something superficial and glossed over, and uses the phrase ‘like an IKEA table’. Both of these made me laugh. Then I felt embarrassed for laughing, so I stifled the laugh by coughing. That triggered a coughing fit, so no-one wins this round, or at the very least I lost. Other than that, almost everything Salander does is darkly hilarious, but I was too afraid to laugh more, in case she came after me.

Though the plot is as familiar as familiar can be, there’s nothing cookie-cutter or formulaic with how they put the flick together on the screen. Sure, the plot itself is constructed by cookie-cutter robots working exclusively in the medium of cookie-cutter art, but Fincher and company do remarkably well telling it in a new way. Based on this, sure, they should make the next two as well, since this is a good example of what a decent remake can do. The Girl Who Played With Fire, with the dumbest bits taken out, could be great. To take out the dumbest bits of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest would make the film three minutes long, but I’m confident if they tackled it in the same way, they could make some semi-precious metal from this all this dross.

Rooney Mara is clearly a talent to behold, and fairly fearless, based on her performance here, and she stands out even amidst this very talented and very experienced cast. Christopher Plummer, being a very old man, plays an old man remarkably well. Stellan Skarsgard, who, to my knowledge, is one of the few Swedes in the cast, puts in another solid performance. Must have been nice to make a flick in your old stomping grounds. Sweden itself ends up looking incredibly beautiful and incredibly icy, and it doesn’t surprise me that stories like this come out of there.

All that being said, this is a very long-arse flick, but it’s a very well made long-arse flick. It comes in at over two and a half hours, so it requires patience, though it’s debatable as to whether it rewards that patience.

I enjoyed watching it, but that enjoyment shouldn’t be misconstrued as approval for the wretched source material or its content.

Heaven forfend.

8 times Salander is terrifying no matter who plays her, but so delightfully erotic as well out of 10

“Hold still. I've never done this before.” – a phrase that should cause cold sweat to spring from anyone’s brow – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.