The 2009 Swedish movie “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which ran for 180 minutes in its extended version, was probably more than enough for most aficionados of the Stieg Larsson bestseller. Not so, says Hollywood, which recruited David Fincher to restart the clock. If his film is successful, we can likely expect at least two sequels.
I didn’t think the original Swedish film was an instant classic, and the Larsson material isn’t exactly holy writ either. There is no inherent reason why this remake shouldn’t work at least as well as the Swedish original. And yet, when it was all over, I was hit with the same question I had going in: Why?
Fincher, at least on paper, was the right director for the job. He specializes in sordid, sexualized scenarios in which people are isolated by anomie and brutality (“Seven,” “Zodiac,” “Fight Club”). As all the world knows, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is about a crusading, disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who teams up with pierced and punkish computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to investigate the long-ago disappearance, possibly murder, of the beloved 16-year-old niece of their wealthy industrialist employer, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the patriarch of a highly dysfunctional clan.
The kick in this material, especially in this new version which plays down Mikael’s surliness, is Lisbeth, a pixieish polysexual outlier who seems equipped with her own portable storm cloud. Mara stands up favorably to the original’s Noomi Rapace. She emerges from her welter of piercings with a dynamo demeanor all her own. The problem with the film is not Lisbeth, it’s Fincher’s surprisingly straightforward, almost unengaged approach.
He moves the action forward swiftly and cleanly – which could not always be said of the original – and, with his screenwriter Steven Zaillian, he even provides a wrap-up that is more emotionally satisfying than the book’s. As the missing girl’s brother Martin, Stellan Skarsgard is as implacably smooth as one might wish for.
But Fincher’s achievement, in the end, is essentially impersonal. For those of us who recoiled at his signature films, especially “Seven” and “Fight Club,” this might not seem like such a bad thing. Still, I wonder why (aside from the obvious commercial aspect) he bothered to take the remake on instead of fashioning his own universe. The coolness here has its creepiness, as in the dispassionate way Fincher depicts Lisbeth’s rape and her subsequent, harrowing revenge, but the suspicion remains: Fincher didn’t make this movie his own because he doesn’t consider it his own. Grade: B (Rated R for brutal violent content, including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.)