Film & TV

Review – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

From acclaimed director David Fincher comes this English-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s 2005 novel of the same name. Having been previously adapted in the Swedish language by Niels Arden Oplev, Fincher’s version serves as a entry point to the series for those unwilling to bother with the mundane atrocity that is subtitling. The previous statement may seem baffling, but it’s apparently the opinion of the movie-going public, and it’s hard to discredit that viewpoint. Look at Tomas Alfredon’s original Swedish Let the Right One In and Matt Reeves’ Hollywood remake Let Me In, the latter may have been a thoroughly pointless incarnation of the excellent original that failed to capture more than 10-15% of the former’s gravitas, but it grossed a whole bunch more dollars.

However, the key difference between The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and films like Let Me In is one simple factor – David Fincher. Here is a director who rarely puts a foot wrong (I said ‘rarely’, no one’s perfect. Oh, and for the record I liked Benjamin Button) and his mere attachment to the project got my, and many others’, hopes up.

And those hopes have been vindicated, Fincher may have glammed up and Hollywoodised this Nordic Noir crime thriller, but he’s retained plenty of the atmosphere of the original, and has also injected some of his own style into the piece.

First and foremost, the editing (both sound and visual) stands out as the best I’ve seen this entire year. Seamlessly jumping between the plots of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), almost every cut is sublime. The visuals themselves feel restrained, repressed, the occasional flash of brilliance regularly pegged back by the overarching style of consistent efficiency. It looks good, but not interesting, everything is handled with a modicum of enthusiasm and far more practicality. It’s also very dark, the bathing of almost every scene in shadows means it treads close to the line of dullness, thankfully never crossing it. However, these criticisms are not replicated when considering the soundwork, which is explosive, clever and thoroughly immersive. From the drone of Lisbeth’s motorcycle as it passes through a tunnel, to the cold wind that batters Blomkvist’s Hedestad residence, it all forms into one constant brooding hum, often overlapping to positive effect.

One exception to the lack of visual flare is the awesome title sequence, which took me by complete surprise. It’s very Bond-esque, with Trent Reznor’s modernised version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ accompanying a CGI montage that blends together many of the movie’s themes. The title sequence itself seems to have had a bit of a resurgence of late, and the way Fincher’s sets up a booming tempo for the rest of the film depicts just how effective they can be.

The acting is excellent across the board, Mara was never going to top Noomi Rapace but does her best, Craig looks the part but is likewise overshadowed by Michael Nyqvist. On the other hand, the supporting actors may be an improvement – the casting is first rate, with Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright and Yorick van Wageningen all delivering pitch-perfect performances. One major gripe is the inconsistency of accents; some of the actors put on distinctly Scandinavian tones while others abstain, like Daniel Craig who uses his usual voice. This seems to be the trend at the moment – think Hugo and it’s utterly nonsensical.

In comparison to the original film, the story feels less dramatic, the characters are a touch flatter, and the ending is boorish, wrong and goes on for a full twenty minutes. To reiterate the point, Niels Arden Oplev’s version is superior, but Fincher’s is a commendable effort. If you’re looking to enter the filmic The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, opt for the original, unless you have an allergy to reading subtitles. Fans of the series already will enjoy making comparisons between the two, either way it’s well worth a watch.

Tom Grater

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Film & TVFilm Reviews

Tom is a budding film reviewer, hell bent on providing informed opinions on the latest movie releases to those who need them, whether they like it or not.

3 Comments on this post.
  • Kat
    29 December 2011 at 16:38
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    First part sounds a little like Kermode’s book… I don’t understand the anti-subtitle thing. Where did this hate of words on screen come from, does anyone know?

    Can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch a remake of Let the right one in. Why try to improve on something that beautiful? Also, what did you like about Benjamin Button? Always thought it was one of Fincher’s great disappointments…

    • tomgrater
      29 December 2011 at 18:52
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      I did get Mark Kermode’s new book for Christmas, so maybe you’re onto something Kat.

      The hatred of words on screen stems from the publics decreasing attention spans and the continued surge of the belief that entertainment should come to you, without you having to invest more than a soupcon of effort (i.e. driving to the cinema). It’s ignorance and conservatism, really, there’s not much else to it. Anyone who actually bothers to sit down and watch a subtitled film will find that you rapidly forgot you’re even reading titles – that’s operating under the presumption they are actually able to read.

      Benjamin Button, while it does have its flaws, is an epic story told with some beautiful visuals. It’s not perfect, but the constantly negative criticism is over the top.

  • Ben
    7 January 2012 at 16:01
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    I agree with Tom (surprise surprise), prejudices towards subtitled films are completed unjust, but I can see the argument against them. Subtitles can be distracting, when watching a subtitled film your eyes are naturally drawn away from what’s on screen by what the characters are saying. To which I deal with by reading quickly, an annoyance onto itself, but one that’s durable when the films are of the quality of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

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