By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin December 20, 2011 at 12:55PM
The American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is well-made, well-cast, tense and exciting. I just wish I hadn’t seen it all before.
It’s hard to fully enjoy a whodunit when you already know the clues, the red herrings, and who done it. If only Americans were willing to read subtitles—or watch movies with unfamiliar actors who are dubbed—there would be no reason for director David Fincher and company to have labored so mightily on this exacting remake of Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 Swedish sensation. But that’s show business. If you’re unfamiliar with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, or wonder what all the shouting’s about, you are the target audience for this picture.
The plot deals with a wealthy industrialist (Christopher Plummer) who hires a skilled reporter (Daniel Craig) to reexamine a forty-year-old, unsolved mystery: the sudden disappearance of his niece. Craig’s unlikely ally in researching the case is a strange, antisocial but talented computer hacker—and analyst of information—named Lisbeth Salander, (Rooney Mara). Larsson’s story not only deals with investigative journalism (less so in this telling than in the original film) and societal corruption, but a series of horrifying attacks on women which are echoed by Salander’s own experiences. The viewer is spared little in a notorious rape scene and its shocking aftermath; these moments were tough to endure in the Swedish movie and they’re just as difficult this time around. (It was at this point that I started to wonder why I was subjecting myself to something so repellent—for the second time.)
Fincher, of course, has traveled this road before in films like Se7en and Zodiac. He brings all his considerable skill to bear in spinning this serpentine story; the frigid atmosphere of snowy Sweden is palpable from start to finish. His methodical setup of the film’s many characters and story threads leaves no stone unturned. On the whole, I admire Steven Zaillian’s screenplay, too. He’s made a few interesting changes, but I miss the passion that was evident in the journalist’s every move and utterance in the original film. Daniel Craig does a good job, and takes a lighter approach than Michael Nyqvist (who can now be seen playing a bad guy in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol), although Robin Wright is wasted in the abbreviated role of his editor and bedmate. Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, and Steven Berkoff are fine in key supporting roles. As for Mara, she’s convincing as the inscrutable, androgynous Lisbeth Salander—a character who becomes more understandable in the second and third installments of the trilogy—but it’s hard not to come away with the feeling that she’s repeating what Noomi Rapace already accomplished.
I realize that this version, with a well-known cast, will reach a much wider audience than any foreign-language movie could in the U.S., but it still seems a shame that so much effort and money have been expended on a replica of a perfectly good Swedish movie.