David Fincher’s Americanized and Overblown “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

The notion that David Fincher and company would have the nerve to remake The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is, for some, too much to take. A friend—she’s a big fan of director Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009  Swedish original and the Stieg Larsson novel on which it’s based—explained it to me the other day: Fincher’s version is just the latest cinematic example of America’s status as a colonizer of foreign creativity and culture. Never mind that remakes have been around since the dawn of the movie industry, or that Oplev’s film is a perfectly average work of genre filmmaking—it’s simply bad form to tread on what Larsson fans have come to regard as hallowed ground.

This view isn’t unique—there are, for instance, Facebook pages urging moviegoers to “boycott” the American version—but as the first few moments of his film make clear, Fincher’s not interested. As the opening credits roll, the new Dragon Tattoo begins with a cover version of “Immigrant Song,” Led Zeppelin’s classic-rock standard, as recorded by Fincher’s frequent musical collaborator Trent Reznor and singer Karen O. The song is nearly as big, dumb and bombastic as the original, and if nothing more, it’s a middle finger to the idea that pop-cultural touchstones are sacrosanct.

This is a suitably irreverent approach given the source material. As created by Larsson prior to his death in 2004, Dragon Tattoo was posthumously published in his native Sweden in 2005 and was followed by sequels in 2006 and 2007; the books were translated into English beginning in 2008—the story’s title character, a computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), has no time for conventional fashion, social graces or gender roles. Though her piercings and body ink mark her as an outlier, she’s also something of a traditionalist who’s loyal to her friends and dogged in the pursuit of justice. This makes her a perfect partner for Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist hired by industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve what appears to be a 40-year-old murder mystery.

Like Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo morphs into a story of serial murder and obsession, and its path takes several unforeseen detours. Rewarding from a narrative standpoint, these misdirections partially explain the film’s extravagant length. But this is a movie with serious pacing problems. A recent New York Times Magazine article dealt with the hard work that Fincher and his editors, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, did to whip the movie into shape, but after sitting through all 150-odd minutes, I have a question for Fincher and his editing team: Are you sure you’re done?

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who shot Fincher’s Fight Club and The Social Network, does fantastic work as usual, as does Fincher’s sound team. Some of this subtly foreshadows events to come, as when an untrustworthy acquaintance of Blomkvist’s finds his charm offensive interrupted by a baying gust of wind. And some of it—Reznor’s throbbing instrumental dirge, for instance, which accompanies the film’s most violent scenes—is appropriately alarming.

Befitting a movie that is alternately thrilling and dispiriting, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo staggers to a dud of an ending. In keeping with the year-end impulse to compile Top 10’s, let’s nominate it for a spot on the list of 2011’s most anticlimactic conclusions. But sometime in the near future, Fincher, Mara and Craig will probably be picking up where they left off. Asked about sequels by The Telegraph of London, the director suggested that there’ll be more films with the same characters if this one draws a big audience. And for all its flaws, it almost certainly will.

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