Movie Review: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” a shiny Hollywood remake without surprises

The first thing about “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is that it’s superfluous. The original Swedish films may be subtitled, with actors few outside of Sweden had heard of before they came out. But the shock of discovering the socialist paradise’s dark side — Nazis, perverts, serial killers and libel laws that endanger good journalism — the very Swedishness of the piece, made the films of Stieg Larsson’s books riveting big-screen page-turners.
The story — about an aging industrialist who commissions a struggling journalist, who in turn asks for help from a touchy, tortured and troubled bi-sexual punk computer hack with a huge dragon tattoo running down her back — is dense and textured, lots of characters to keep track of, motives to trace, crimes to discover and an ancient missing person case that leads us into the dark world of Larsson’s creation.
David Fincher’s Hollywood remake has a great cast — Rooney Mara has been nominated for an Oscar for her turn in the title role, Daniel Craig is the gutsy journalist, Christoper Plummer is the patriarch, with Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard, Joely Richardson and other Hollywood character players such as Steven Berkoff filling in around the edges.
The new version has Hollywood production values — dazzling production design, amped up action beats, terrific stunt work and the rights to Enya’s “Sail Away.”
But Fincher, in doing what he has insisted is a “new” adaptation, has changed little. For most of the first two hours, you’d swear he even used some of the same locations — the look, feel and tempo of the movies are that similar. He didn’t fix the main “shortcoming” of the original film, it’s pace. This “Tattoo” is even longer.
Craig does his standard Daniel Craig (light British) accent, playing a Swede surrounded by other actors (Plummer, Wright and Mara) who do feign Swedish accents.
Those had to be the issues the more film savvy in Hollywood picked up on when leaving “Tattoo” out of the best picture and best director races. It’s simply not original enough. He had a blueprint and he followed it.
Craig plays journalist Mikael Blomqvist, ruined by an under-sourced expose of a devious, corrupt industrialist. In the original films, he faced jail time over this, which gave the story some urgency that this one lacks. Blomqvist was a condemned man in the first films. Here, not so much.
Plummer is the aging Henrik Vanger, lord of a shrinking industrial empire and patriarch of a disagreeable clan of Sweden’s uber-rich, a man who wonders if one of his own family members killed a favorite granddaughter who went missing back in the 1960s. Vanger hires Blomqvist to re-open the case and find out what happened to Harriet. His search includes interviews with family members (Geraldine James, Skarsgard, Joely Richardson), some of whom had Nazi sympathies back in the day. And they aren’t even the scariest Vangers.

And along the way, Blomqvist takes on an assistant, the alarming, disturbed young woman/hacker who did the Vanger’s investigation of Blomqvist before he was hired for this case. She lives outside the law, a punk covered in tattoos and piercings, hanging out in gay bars and stealing data by any electronic means necessary. She is a ward of the state, at the mercy of a seriously creepy probation officer (Yorick Van Wageninen from “The Way”).
I love the way Mara carries herself in this role (Noomi Rapace was unforgettable as Lisbeth Salander in the original films). Eyes looking down, an almost military cadence to her walking, she has lived most of her 24 years on the defensive. She takes any remark about her eating habits personally.
“I have a high metabolism I can’t put on weight” she snaps, in a rush, any time it comes up.
In going back tot eh books, screenwriter Steven Zaillian has given more a sexual/romantic side to the Blomqvist/Salandar relationship. Very David Fincher. Very Hollywood, too. That robs the film of some of the spiritual connection between these two mismatched personalities, the sense that each is returning a life-saving favor given by the other.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a thoroughly engrossing, entertaining film, one that deserves to be seen by the millions who missed the original Swedish trilogy. But it does tend to make this “Millennium Trilogy” more perfunctory, more reliant on Fincher (“Se7en,” “Zodiac”) to deliver big, graphic, jolting shocks of sex and violence and sexual violence. That renders this “Tattoo” more tawdry than revelatory, more a stunt than an a gritty, eye-opening thriller set in a country best known for its gorgeous blondes, Volvos and ABBA.
And best picture? Best director? It’s certainly better than some of the nominated films. But Fincher & Co. lose points every time this movie is nothing more than a slightly–just ever so slightly — inferior version of the Swedish films.

MPAA Rating: R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Jolie Richardson.
Credits: Directed by David Fincher, based on the Stieg Larsson books.  A Sony pictures release. Running time:  2:38

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