I’ve never read the novel, but have seen the original Swedish movie adaptation, so this was an interesting journey into essentially watching the same film twice. Literally. The first two-thirds of the movie seems to be a scene-by-scene re-shoot of the original, in English. This version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–now with Daniel Craig!–both is and isn’t an improvement over the original.
The story begins with Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) being convicted of journalistic fraud after his expose of a corrupted industrialist is revealed to be underlain by shoddy journalism. In truth, Mikael has been set-up, but the ruling has repercussions, not only for his career and finances (huge fine), but also the magazine that printed the article. In the original movie, Mikael is also facing jail time, but that aspect is absent from this version. Soon after quitting his job, he is approached by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), another rich, but aging industrialist, whose dysfunctional family approaches Jerry Springer proportions. That is, if Jerry Springer guests were wealthy former Nazis.
Decades before, against a backdrop of abuse and incest, Henrik’s teenage granddaughter disappeared and is presumed dead. Henrik wants Mikael to find the truth, i.e., the killer. Mikael muddles along, looking at old pictures and constructing flow charts to keep track of who is and isn’t speaking to whom. Delving deeper into the mystery, he uncovers a connection to several murders–women killed in horrific ways–evidence of a serial killer.
Eventually, he requests a research assistant, and Henrik suggests a very capable person who, coincidentally, is the same person Vanger hired to do a background check on Mikael. Enter The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisabeth (Rooney Mara), the emotionally-stunted, occasionally psychotic, bisexual, punk-girl hacker. Life has taped a big “kick me” sign on the back of twenty-four-year old Lisabeth, a ward of the state since she was twelve, and her defensive posture and attitude reflects this. Her most recent victimization comes at the hands of her new social worker, who brutally rapes her; the assault “payment” for his allowing her to have more of her allowance. As with in the original, Lisabeth exacts her equally violent revenge.
Despite her off-putting personality, Mikael knows she is a terrific investigator, in particular because he’s seen the report she did on him. Hiring her comes with a side benefits–sex; Lisabeth initiating each encounter, clearly in control and using him as much as he does her.
Daniel Craig adds a bit more charisma to the Mikael’s character and improves the scenery. Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of Henrik has tremendous sparkle, and the scene where he explains the anti-social dynamics of the family Vanger is downright funny. Rooney Mara’s version of Lisabeth is a bit more broken and less angry than that of Noomi Rapace, and possibly more accessible.
And yeah, in some respects, the switch to English is helpful. At times, it was frustrating to be shown a newspaper clip, an important clue, in Swedish. But, with the original, the sense of immersion in another culture made up for the annoyance. The very Swedish-ness of the original lent certain aspects of the film, e.g. Sweden’s Nazi past, a delicious sense that you were snooping through an entire nation’s dirty laundry.
Personally, I thought this version lacked the suspense of the original. Admittedly, the fact that I knew the story’s outcome meant a diminished sense of tension. OTOH, I have a short memory, and it still felt as though the plot in this version screamed, “Here’s the perp; he did it!” The original movie did a much better job of misdirection; one crucial, tension-filled scene where Mikael creeps about a suspect’s house–the wrong suspect–is missing altogether. The original also front loaded more of the exposition, while this one holds back details until the end, presumably to created a sense of mystery. Except it really doesn’t accomplish much except to give the movie any overly long epilogue.
Subtitles and all, I prefer the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but still found this version engrossing and worth watching.