Show Me Cinema #16: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

It feels weird to review an American movie for a column series that is meant to be reserved for Swedish cinema, but this is a rare occasion. Besides a few unofficial remakes of a number of Bergman’s films I can’t think of any other direct Hollywood remakes of any Swedish films. And to make it even more of a rarity, the film is even set and was shot in Sweden. Generally whenever Hollywood tries to tackle and remake a foreign-language IP they tend to transpose it to a US setting, to mixed results let’s say. Sometimes it works (The Departed) and other times it becomes a clusterfuck (Oldboy), but rarely do they keep the setting of the original text. This is perhaps more of an attribute to David Fincher and writer Steve Zaillian than Hollywood itself, but nevertheless it’s gonna be fun to discuss a Hollywood interpretation of my own country, especially when delivered by such a star-studded team both in front of and behind the camera.

Because of the smash success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and the subsequent Swedish adaptations released in 2009, it’s not surprising that Hollywood would like to cash in on that dough. I remember there being much excitement for the film upon release. Just like the original films I remember seeing the poster for this film (y’know, the one with Daniel Craig’s face blasted like a motherfucker on it) and I could never get the title right and I’m not sure I fully comprehended the idea of remakes (keep in mind, I was only 11-12 at the time). But this was the first time I’ve seen the film (back-to-back with the original), and I gotta say I’m very impressed with the results. Besides a few reservations I think this is a considerably superior version of this story compared to the Swedish original.

The story is virtually the same, with some differences that aren’t too major but noticeable. But what sets this movie apart from the original and the key thing that makes this film superior to the original is one thing: Fincher’s direction. Anyone who’s ever seen any of Fincher’s films knows how much of a visual stylist he is, and he brings that sense of much-needed style to this film as well. In fact, if I were asked to summarize my thoughts on the original in one sentence it would be: “lack of style and personality.” And this is the complete polar opposite, where this does indeed have personality and is very stylish from the get-go, with the atmosphere perfectly set up right in the beginning with the opening credits (with an excellent cover of Immigrant Song). He also knows how to shoot scenes that aren’t just efficient but also seamlessly provide the viewer with additional information. For example, in the original when Vanger is showing Mikael Blomkvist around the island, the whole scene is shot with the two characters talking and walking around the place. This is a good example of sloppy direction because we never get a sense of geography between these important locations nor the character’s relationships to them. In Fincher’s remake, the characters stand still in one spot as Vanger (now played excellently by Christopher Plummer I might add) points to the different houses as Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) takes notes as we cut to establishing shots of each house. That’s how you establish geography clearly and efficiently, and it’s really simple so it shouldn’t be too hard to get this across.

The film somehow manages to feel very Swedish despite the fact that it’s made by Americans and Brits of course. What Fincher gets right is, once again, the overall oppressive atmosphere of a dark winter and much darkness hidden away in the cracks of society. It’s also just fun to see shots of Stockholm and recognize several spots or simply just architectural styles common there.

If there’s one gripe I had with the movie it’s gotta be the accents. They range from acceptable to not very good. The worst offenders, in my book, are Rooney Mara and Robin Wright. They just don’t sound Swedish to me in the slightest. They either sound like a Swedish person talking English with a very thick accent or more as German or Dutch, and neither of those are good. The only one who comes away unscathed is Daniel Craig, who must’ve missed the memo that says “speak with Swedish accent” because he speaks with his normal English accent, which I find preferrable. Ever since The Death of Stalin I have maintained that any movie set in a “foreign” country featuring mostly English-speaking actors, they should stick to their natural accents because otherwise a faux accent can be quite distracting and sound silly if done wrong, as is the case here.

So this movie is pretty great as you might’ve figured out by now. It’s superior to the original in almost every way (except maybe the performances), but I can’t help but say that without a tiny sense of sadness. Here we as a film nation had the chance to really do something exceptional with the original but we just blew it. Either it’s simply down to sloppy direction or we just don’t give a fuck about quality and look down on pulpy style and that’s really unfortunate. Maybe we should just let Hollywood redo all of our IPs, provided they’re directed by people as good as Fincher.

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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