There’s nothing wrong with David Fincher’s remake of Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Was it strictly necessary? That’s debatable. Once again, it’s a disgrace that Hollywood needs to cater to stateside audiences’ refusal to read subtitles, but that’s the world we find ourselves living in. Fincher & Co. make the best of it, with strong help from Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgård, and Christopher Plummer. Nothing gets dumbed down, and the estate of the late novelist Stieg Larsson keeps chugging along.
The figure of lonely female avenger Lisbeth Salander (Mara) is a potent one — part bisexual riot grrrl, part entrepreneurial thief, part clothes pony, with more than a touch of that vital vulnerability without which the character risks cartoonishness. Actress Mara, briefly glimpsed in The Social Network, invokes Lisbeth as the doomed romantic to end all doomed romantics, with a face out of a Dario Argento horror flick but wearing on her black leather sleeve a credible longing for connection as she makes her way through a swamp full of predatory “men who hate women” (the original title of the trilogy’s first episode). The one exception is Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist, the investigative reporter whose career path crosses that of professional investigator Lisbeth.
Let’s not try for a shot-for-shot comparison between the two versions. Fincher gets the concept, and since his budget is equal to the gross domestic product of Sweden his version spares neither local color nor big-name supporting players. Both Plummer and Skarsgård are fine as, respectively, relatively benign and malevolent members of a rotten family of right-wing industrialists, against which tech-savvy Lisbeth displays her determination. Basically, Mikael digs up mysteries and Lisbeth solves them, the hard way. If Fincher’s remake passes the box-office test, presumably the franchise will continue deeper into Lisbeth’s story in Parts 2 and 3, where she shows us more of herself. In the meantime, we can drink in the lingering scent of Zodiac, Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography, and the moody musical anthems of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Lisbeth Salander is a character for our time. We could foresee Fincher’s take as only the latest in a long string of retellings of the Dragon Tattoo saga. The message is easy to read: Respect women, respect yourself, and don’t go into Swedish barns alone.