The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, not to be confused with the 2009 movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the same book only in a different language, is now in theaters, and while at first glance the necessity of an English-language remake appears questionable, director David Fincher establishes early on why audiences should care: his version is simply better.
The 2009 Swedish version (which wasn't released in the U.S. until 2010), directed by Niels Arden Oplev, is very good. It features strong performances by Michael Nyqvist and especially Noomi Rapace, who became a worldwide sensation for her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander. Its one weakness: Oplev's direction. The movie maintains a good pace and remains interesting throughout, but it's a very by-the-book production.
David Fincher takes things up a notch. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is two hours and 40 minutes long, slightly longer than the Swedish version, but it is tighter, more interesting and, as expected from a Fincher film, visually arresting. Aspects of author Stieg Larsson's complex plot are streamlined, slimmed down or even removed (like Mikael's relationship with Cecilia), to the movie's benefit. Storylines that dragged on before are condensed, and simultaneously Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian expand upon the characters to make them richer and more three dimensional.
Despite their modifications to the source (note: I read the first 150 pages, didn't like the book, and am basing assumptions about the book on the Swedish movie, which I hear stays pretty close to the novel), Fincher and Zaillian stay true to the story. They simply make the story work on a top-tier cinematic level.
It takes a little while to get going. Like in the book, the two leads (played here by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara) don't meet, and the plot doesn't completely materialize, for a significant amount of time. But with each passing minute, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo gets better as Fincher slowly amps up the suspense and intrigue. Rather than feeling like a by-the-numbers tale, Fincher injects a much-needed edginess into the movie. The film takes hold of the audience and never lets go.
The difference between the two films is most stark in the third act. Not only are the endings a little different, but even after the main villain has been removed from the equation, Fincher attacks the remaining story with incredible gusto, giving closure to the established character arcs in a much more fluid and gripping way than seen in the Swedish version.
Like the Swedish version, the acting is excellent. Craig is a perfect choice for the role of Mikael Blomkvist; he carries the film well, his depiction more intense and determined than Nyqvist's (note: I didn't say "better"). More importantly, Mara is stunning as Lisbeth Salander. Completely transformed from her natural performance, she is raw, disturbed, sexy and lethal all at once. Interestingly, she's neither better nor worse than Rapace, but their portrayals are significantly different in many ways.
David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent thriller and a compelling mystery. As good as the Swedish version is, Fincher breathes new life into the story, making it more dynamic, engaging and powerful.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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