THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) (***1/2)
Based on Stieg Larsson's international bestseller, this film makes this the second time this story has been brought to the screen. The original Swedish version is very fresh in my mind, having made my top 25 list last year, ranking fourth, just behind David Fincher's THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Now we have Fincher's version of the same tale in English.
Still set in Sweden, Daniel Craig (CASINO ROYALE) plays journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who has just lost a libel suit after printing a damning report about a successful businessman. Turns out he was set up. Leaving his magazine in disgrace, Mikael takes a job offer from Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer, BEGINNERS), a retired businessman whose family operates one of the largest companies in the country. For decades, Henrik has been investigating the disappearance of his niece Harriet, who he raised like his own. The old man believes one of his family members murdered her.
As Mikael begins his investigation, we meet Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, THE SOCIAL NETWORK), a skilled computer hacker who conducted the background check on Mikael for Henrik. She is pierced and tattooed and never wears anything that isn't black. A goth girl with a history of violence, she is a ward of the state and has been assigned a new case worker named Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen, THE NEW WORLD), a sadistic man who blackmails sex out of Lisbeth. But he doesn't know who he is dealing with.
Mara, a relative newcomer, was a surprise choice for the coveted role. She gives the character the right dose of vulnerability and chutzpa. For those who have seen Noomi Rapace's performance it's hard to not see the influence (whether intended or not) in Mara's performance. Mara is given a more open version of the character. When Mikael takes an interest in her, she starts to drop her cool demeanor. The tough outside and quick temper is just a shield for her fractured heart. She's just looking for a friend and an equal, which for her is difficult to come by.
Like the original film version, the story takes its time to set up its two investigators. When their stories merge, it's like a dream team we've been waiting for. Henrik's family is large so the suspect list is long. Martin (Stellan Skarsgard, GOOD WILL HUNTING) is Harriet's brother and now runs the family company. He is the only one who supports Henrik's investigation. Frode (Steven Berkoff, CLOCKWORK ORANGE) is Henrik's right hand man and his protector. A protector from Henrik himself he says. Anita Vanger (Joely Richardson, ANONYMOUS) is Henrik's niece who got away from the family the first chance she got. Cecilia (Geraldine James, SHERLOCK HOLMES) is another niece who doesn't like the coverage of the family. Harald (Per Myrberg) is Henrik's reclusive brother, who only leaves the house to go hunting.
Surprisingly the script from Steve Zaillian (SCHINDLER'S LIST) is not as subtle as Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg's Swedish script. In the American version, the moral rabbit hole surrounding the conclusion is eliminated with Mikael simply siding with Lisbeth's blood lust. I find this a very curious cultural distinction. Having not read the book I can't say which script kept the most faithful, but what I can say is that the Swedish version handled the end coda with better economy and left Lisbeth more enigmatic.
The Swedish version made Lisbeth just as much of a mystery as the murder mystery. The American version makes her an avenging angel. Driven by a badass performance from Mara, the character remains very compelling still. Part of the joy of both versions is the contrast in investigating styles between Mikael and Lisbeth. It's the perfect pairing of old school and new. Take from it what you will that Mikael plays by the rules and Lisbeth enjoys breaking every single one.