A Remake by Any Other Name: David Fincher Takes One for the Team

City Pulse | December 12, 2011
David Fincher can do a great re-make. Now, let’s hope he never does one again. By definition, remakes demand that audiences go back to the original to compare differences slight and large. I don’t put any credence in the faulty premise that a second film based on the same source material constitutes anything other than a remake. Indeed many of the compositions and sequences are similar enough between director Niels Arden Oplev’s version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and Fincher’s that watching both is akin comparing apples with apples. Still, the significant difference between the two films is a big one. In Fincher’s version Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist get busy, and as such earn a level of intimacy sorely missing from Arden Oplev’s sill powerful film.

Audiences will split hairs over Noomi Rapace’s iconic Goth portrayal of Lisbeth Salander as compared to Rooney Mara’s savant-sex-alien rendition. It’s a fascinating comparison. Rapace kicked bat-shit-monkey-ass in the original, while Mara’s Lisbeth is more the type to ask permission before seeking lethal revenge—as occurs in a pivotal scene late in the film. Mara approaches a bland quality of androgyny whose asexual appearance is belied by her lustful intentions which she carries out with respectable focus.

There’s no question that David Fincher is a muscular director whose capacity for creating cinematic wonder is astounding. “Zodiac” (2007) is one of the most stunning police procedurals ever made. He understands the importance of seducing his audience right from the start of every one of his movies. His opening credit sequence here explodes with a shiny, oily-black sensual fury that announces the movie as an exploration in thoroughly modern style and sass. And to that end he succeeds full stop. Where he slips up is, surprisingly, in articulating Stieg Larsson’s story—something that Niels Arden Oplev did better. Some of the blame can be put on screenwriter Steven Zaillian, but editing decisions by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall play a hefty role. You don’t care as much about the mystery of the missing girl as you do with the original film because the narrative isn’t enunciated with the same degree of passion. Even the seemingly ideal casting of Daniel Craig doesn’t work as well for the role. With his downtrodden bearing and doughy charm Michael Nyqvist made for a more empathetic Mikael Blomkvist. Although the filmmakers wisely keep the action in Sweden, rather than transposing the story to somewhere like the Hamptons, the film refuses to soak up the European culture it’s submersed in. Here again miscasting plays a part. Robin Wright just isn’t convincing as a Swedish character. Her accent evaporates mid-sentence. In spite of her blonde hair and Nordic features, Wright feels like an interloper in the movie. An utter lack of romantic chemistry between her and Daniel Craig further distracts from the story.

David Fincher’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a very entertaining movie. The credit sequence alone is worth the price of admission. Is it better than Niels Arden Oplev’s film? I’ll leave that up to you.

Rated R. 260 mins. (Four Stars – out of five, no halves)

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