By Don Simpson | December 21, 2011
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steven Zaillian (screenplay), Stieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter
With a few notable exceptions (one of which is Let Me In), I cringe whenever Hollywood decides to remake a foreign language film in order to cater towards mainstream English-speaking audiences who are reluctant to watch foreign language films. It is even more frustrating to me when the story that is being adapted into English is inherently foreign (for example, Stieg Larsson’s source novel and Niels Arden Oplev’s original film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo both take place in Sweden and feature all Swedish characters.) Upon hearing that an English-language remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was going into production, I was hellbent on never even acknowledging its existence; but after one truly tantalizing trailer — which I consider to be one of the best trailers in several years — director David Fincher instantly converted me into a possible believer.
Luckily, the trailer was not misleading and, in an extremely rare twist of fate, I would even go as far as stating that Fincher’s version is actually superior to Oplev’s original (though, yes, it is annoying and distracting to me that the Swedish characters speak in English). There, I said it. Though remarkably faithful to Oplev’s original, Fincher improves upon what I consider to be a near-perfectly paced and complexly structured original; the result is one of the tautest and smartest Hollywood thrillers of recent history.
From my memory of Oplev’s original, Fincher’s remake seems to include more scenes, but both films feature comparable near-epic running times (both are just shy of 160 minutes). Not surprisingly, Fincher does opt to tone down the unnerving sexual violence of the sequences between Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) and her state-appointed guardian (Yorick van Wageningen), shying away from the terrifying brutality that makes the original film almost unwatchable. We still see and hear enough to get a strong understanding of what is going on, but Fincher never fetishizes the violence.
What really catapults Fincher’s remake above Oplev’s original is Mara’s transformative performance (though I also love Noomi Rapace’s original performance) as Lisbeth. While I think Rapace’s physical appearance is more representative of Lisbeth (as described in Larsson’s novel), Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth seems much truer to the tone of the literary character. Speaking of tone, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score works so well as a complement to the narrative that it is my favorite score of 2011 — in fact, I consider this to be far superior to their Oscar-winning score for The Social Network.