James Bond Meets the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

When I first saw “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” back in 2010 when the DVD was first released, I was captivated and transported to the cold dreary world of Lisbeth Salander – a computer hacker/researcher and into the world of journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

As I watched the drama unfold on my DVD player with the English dubbed version turned on; certain thoughts ran through my head. First, this is an amazing story. Second, this film is complicated and unfolding a bit slower than what I think an American audience might be able to stand. Finally, Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist (plays Mikael Blomkvist) looks a bit like 007’s Daniel Craig.

Director David Fincher (“The Social Network”, “Fight Club”) may have had some of the same thoughts that I did. What Fincher has done is taken a very complex and compelling story that did well with foreign audiences and adapted it to suit the tastes of an American audience. Although I believe American audiences range from the very ADHD folks who need the thrill and action that allow them to escape from the day to day without actually having to think, as well as the other group who escape into the mind bending worlds of mysteries, thrillers and suspense. I do believe that Fincher’s version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” will appeal to those of us who lurk somewhere in the middle. Rooney Mara (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “The Social Network”) takes on the sulky, dark, and mysterious Salander character and runs with it.

Right from the start David Fincher realizes he has a great story to work from, but realizes that in the first moments as the titles begin that he must capture the audience’s attention, and he does this by immediately displaying images of human beings distorted by liquid special effects set to a revamped version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” sung by Karen O. (“Where The Wild Things Are” soundtrack) and produced by “Nine Inch Nail’s” Trent Reznor. Guitar and vocals wailing in the background as surrealistic images of two people unfold and meld together as the titles appear. This new opening is announcing to the audience that this is an American version of a foreign film. Many of the Swedishisms are no longer present in the film. Instead you have a Brit playing a Swede for an American audience and as such, many an American along with the subjects of Great Britain may very well not notice the lack of Swedishness to the film. What you have is a complex story (no matter which version you see) unfolding very quickly for a quite long film in front of your eyes. The bleak Swedish landscape is just a bit drearier than the original the colors have just a bit less life and making the atmosphere just a bit more chilling. One thing I noticed is that Craig never really looked comfortable in the cold. Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander was hauntingly familiar and also a bit more Americanized – no armpit hair in this film.

Hang on. Several stories are unfolding simultaneously as the film starts. The first and the primary story is about Harriet, a girl who has gone missing and is believed murdered over 40 years ago. The girl’s uncle, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), is the aging head of the country’s once largest company. Haunted by the disappearance of his niece back in 1966 and the yearly reminders on his birthday as he continues to receive the one gift that was known only to him as the only present his niece would give to him. The second revolves around journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the lawsuit against him for libeling a major Swedish industrialist in his magazine the “Millennium.” And the third piece of the puzzle is the story around the introverted, antisocial, ward of the state at 23 years-old, Goth Punk chick Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). These three separate stories seem to come together as Vanger through his lawyer Dirch Frode, who has hired a privacy company to do a background check on Blomkvist before hiring him for an assignment for his employer. Going through a privacy company to do a background check on Blomkvist, the company uses their best researcher who, like many in the information technology industry, is very cold amd cynical. So much so, that the company prefers that Lisbeth Salander work from home. The meeting between Salander, dressed in full Punk-Goth leather attire, and Frode is awkward. However Frode is very much impressed with the detail that Lisbeth put into her report. He even goes as far to ask for her opinion if Blomkvist is innocent of libel as well as his sexual proclivities. Salander took this information from Blomkvist’s personal files off his computer. Eventually Blomkvist meets with Henrik Vanger via an invitation from Frode and makes the journey to Vanger’s island near Hedestad, a fictional Swedish town.

Vanger decides to hire Blomkvist to research the murder of Harriet, his niece. The details of Vanger’s strange and dysfunctional family are ran down for Blomkvist (and us) in a matter of a few minutes rather than unfolding as the plot develops. In some ways, this works better as far as pacing goes but it makes the film a little less thought provoking and in some ways doesn’t give the audience a chance to mull over the list of possible suspects. We also meet Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgård), Henrik’s grand – nephew and Harriet’s brother. Henrik’s brother Richard was a Nazi and his son a drunk. Martin is now in charge of running the Vanger family business and is a friendly, willing collaborator to his uncle’s wishes. In this version, Blomkvist is not on a deadline due to him having to report to jail for incarceration as part of his penalty for libeling corporate magnate Hans-Erik Wennerström. Also Vanger promises Blomkvist some information on Wennerström that will reverse his libel case and solidly put Wennerström behind bars. As I mentioned before, Daniel Craig is well suited for this version of the film with its quicker pace. One thing I also noticed is that Craig is less suited for the Swedish winter whereas Michael Nyqvist (Swedish original film) is well suited for this role. Did I mention they rather remind me of each other?

Lisbeth’s story is a bit more troubled. Her social service ward has a stroke and the government replaces him with the sadistic Nils Bjurman. He dangles her inheritance over her head as he takes sexual advantage of her and eventually rapes her. Unfortunately, for her he really doesn’t know what she is truly capable of. Blomkvist, after finding out that Salander hacked into to his computer, he is not only pissed but he is also intrigued with her and her methods. He has Frode hire her and give them complete access to the Vanger files. Rooney Mara (Kate Mara’s sister), captures the essence of Lisbeth Salander, however, I still think Noomi Rapace truly is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in my mind. Not saying that Mara didn’t do a good job, she did indeed. However, there is something about Rapace’s portrayal that gives the character presence that I didn’t quite feel as much with Rooney Mara’s Salander. The amount of nudity in this version kind of surprised me a bit, but it was done tastefully and the relationship between Salander and Blomkvist is a bit warmer and cozier. I cannot say that Daniel Craig’s performance was a blockbuster; however, he did move the role along and kept the pace moving. Stellan Skarsgård (“King Arthur,” “Deep Blue Sea,” “Angels and Demons”) gives an outstanding performance and even keeps folks who have seen the Swedish version on their toes.

This is a good movie worth watching, even if you enjoyed the Swedish version. In most places the scenes cut fast enough to keep the pace moving, as many are scenes of either Craig or Mara researching through countless documents and photographs, searching for clues to Harriet’s murder. In some cases the rapid cutting leaves the viewer a bit disjointed but because the next scene is up you may not notice until you get to some places in the film where the pacing does seem to drag. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo runs 158 minutes (2 hours 38 minutes), but starts feeling a bit long during the last 15 – 20 minutes during the denouement as Fincher hurriedly tries to wrap up the story. Steven Zaillian (“The Falcon and the Snowman,” “Moneyball”) wrote this screen adaption of the late Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” and is currently writing the sequel, “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.” David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great date movie, or definitely a DVD rental with some popcorn and a fire in the fireplace on some cold night with your significant other.

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