Directed by: David Fincher || Produced by: Scott Rudin, Ole Sondberg, Soren Staermose, Cean Chaffin
Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian || Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson
Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross || Cinematography: Jeff Cronenworth || Editing by: Krik Baxter, Angus Wall || Country: United States, Sweden, United Kingdom, Germany || Language: English
Running Time: 158 minutes
What initially caught my eye about this English-language Hollywood remake was that David Fincher would preside as its director. Everyone is weary of Hollywood’s endless stream of remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and lack of creativity in general, particularly when most of those re-imaginings turn out to be inferior to the originals. However, in light of notable exceptions such as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight (2005, 2008, 2012) trilogy and J. J. Abram’s Star Trek (2009), I was puzzled at snobs’ blanket generalization that all Hollywood remakes and reboots are terrible, and their immediate allergic reaction to films like the 2011 English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, particularly when a veteran director like Fincher was to be in charge.
Fincher has never been regarded as a sellout filmmaker who only makes blockbuster movies for the masses, with his most well known films being the gruesome Seven (1995), the eccentric Fight Club (1999), and the dramatic The Social Network (2010). Furthermore, Fincher is a far better director than either Abrams or Nolan, so fans’ endless complaining about Hollywood “ruining yet another classic film” made little sense to me. All that stuff is substantial even without taking into account how underwhelming the 2009 Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo was.
I argue the bigger budget, the screen presences of Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, and Stellan Skarsgard, and particularly David Fincher’s auteur direction, did a far better job of bringing the dark mood and foreboding tone of Stieg Larsson’s narrative to life. It baffles me how so many people think otherwise. Mara’s Lisbeth is not screaming her head off like a banshee, Craig doesn’t act like he’s on The Young and the Restless, and Fincher sets the scenes and shoots the action like the veteran director that he is. The movie as a whole does not resemble a student-film like the Swedish original, which I think is a good thing. Regardless of which interpretation’s accuracy and faithfulness to the novel you preferred, the 2011 film is simply the better movie.
Mara does a great job as the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, for which she rightfully received an Academy Award-nomination. She made the character seem strong, intelligent, and tenacious, but also vulnerable, flawed and relatable. Craig’s presence as the everyman Mikael Blomkvist is ironic beside the cunning, female-James-Bond-type archetype that Mara portrays, but overall he plays the role well.
As stated above, Fincher’s trademark direction and camerawork are as effective as ever here, and they emphasize the bleak atmosphere of the haunting setting. His steadfast reliance on motion-controlled camera movements, static wide-shots, and tasteful CGI tracking shots add to the ominous tone of the narrative. Long time collaborator of Fincher, Nine Inch Nails frontman, Trent Reznor, returns with partner Atticus Ross to compose the score for the Dragon Tattoo. Although not as sublime as their work on The Social Network, the music does a fabulous job of complementing the visuals to create the tone of the film. The most memorable track is the remix of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the bizarre, yet oddly fitting opening credits sequence, with Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on vocals.
There were tiresome elements of Fincher’s rendition as well, however. The most glaring mistake is the film’s massive length. The plot’s main conflict is resolved about 125 minutes into the movie’s 158 minute running. There was no reason to include the final half hour at all, save for a couple brief plot-points that are explored in excruciating detail. To that end, the film is only moderately well paced to begin with, so this never-ending epilogue makes the whole movie feel that much slower.
Still, the main reason I prefer this English-language re-imagining is that David Fincher is a much better director than Niels Arden Oplev. There are other reasons as well, namely the better cast, top to bottom, the higher production-values, and Trent Reznor’s score, but what seals the deal is that Fincher knows what the hell he is doing. People can prefer whichever version they want. It doesn’t bother me what films people like more than others — but it does bother me which they claim are objectively “better” than others. At the very least, come up with better reasons than, “It wasn’t exactly like the book,” or, “I hate American remakes.”
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Though David Fincher always faces a high bar (set by himself) whenever he takes on a new project, he’s in his element here dealing with serial killers, torture, creepy vibes, and cloak-and-daggers mystery. Rooney Mara is a “strong female character” that finally deserves to shed those quotation marks. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver again — they have proven they are film score-composers to be reckoned with.
— However… massive editing was needed for the film’s final half hour. The extended epilogue slows the movie’s pace to a crawl, which was already mediocre to start.
? Sail away, sail away, sail away…