In general, I believe in experiencing the original version of something before indulging in remakes. There are exceptions; the Bourne films are, by all accounts, far more penetrable and interesting than Ludlum’s novels. I made sure I rented the original Swedish version of Let the Right One In, not the American remake, but then again I didn’t read the book because I’ve read synopses and would like to continue to sleep at night…
Okay, this is getting a little sidetracked. But to segue via the Swedish connection, I broke that rule yet again when fate dropped the English-language version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in my lap.
From this I elected not to watch the original ever because if I assume the pattern holds true that European films allow a lot more leeway than Hollywood when it comes to explicit content, then this version was quite enough for me.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features Mikael, played well if somewhat inexplicably by Daniel Craig. Mikael is a journalist who has recently been made a fool of publicly after being sued for all he’s worth by a billionaire. Keen to get out of the limelight for a while, he accepts an offer from an aging business magnate played by Christopher Plummer (a man I believe to be incapable of giving a bad performance). The magnate’s niece disappeared, presumed murdered 40 years ago and he has been trying ever since to sort out whom in his large, rich and fractious family might have had a hand in her demise. Mikael, he says, might turn his investigative mind to finding something he has missed all this time.
In a related matter, Plummer’s character chose Mikael after receiving a shockingly detailed and informed report on his character and work from Lisbeth, played by Rooney Mara. Lisbeth is a master of computer hacking and used that to compile a report on Mikael. She is also a ward of the state; dysfunctional in numerous ways, in no way helped by the fact that she is repeatedly and (very) graphically raped by her social worker, who blackmails her into it by promising money and favourable progress reports.
Mikael ends up getting her to join him as a research assistant as together they track down the killer, and Lisbeth forms both a sexual and emotional bond with Mikael.
I admit I had high expectations of this movie. The trailers made it look like an intense whodunit thriller with disguises and shadowy clues and things. For all the pathos and build-up, however, the movie was a big disappointment. The mystery itself involves a series of dreary interviews and squinting at photographs ending in a serial killer twist worthy of a workaday CSI episode. This is interrupted every so often so we can watch Lisbeth getting victimized with no sense of plot momentum at all. All of the master-of-disguise intrigue is within the space of one montage that has no bearing on the mystery. Mikael and Lisbeth both figure out the mystery independently of one another, spoiling the character dynamic since it wasn’t the synthesis of skills that cinched the deal.
Lisbeth meanwhile never confides in Mikael, she’s already turned the tables on her social worker (in a spectacularly sadistic and poetic way) before she even meets Mikael, and they go their separate ways at the end. Lisbeth’s character development fizzles and neither of them is noticeably different at one end of the story or the other. The fact that she’s the title character is just weird. I thought she was going to be the focus of the mystery, a suspect or potential victim, or maybe a vigilante or secret agent of some sort. In fact she gets less screen time than Craig does, is his research assistant, and on the occasions when she wasn’t wearing baggy deadbeat Goth clothes, I couldn’t even tell which of her selection of tattoos was the titular one.
I’m not saying there are bad performances, quite the opposite. Lisbeth is not easily forgotten but the script in which she exists comes across as the writers periodically forgetting what kind of movie they were making and so the story arc just sort of bounces around. I’m told that the book was the first in a trilogy. I don’t know if they plan to adapt the rest of it, but they needed to put a bit more effort into making me give a toss.
It’s hard to like it anyway since not only did the English speaking world feel the need to do their own version of it, but rather than transfer it to America, use American characters and culture (as in the above case of Let the Right One In) they kept the setting, plot and characters pretty much the same and just used English-speaking actors.
This insular quality of the Anglophonic film industry is a whole essay unto itself, but between the shallowness of the adaptation and dreary, meandering plot, I fail to see why this movie would make any sort of a bang. Don’t bother is my advice.