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REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Yes, Holmes. Watson is that slow.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: unless there’s a number in the title of the movie I’m reviewing, I’m not going to include a number in the title of my review. But, to clarify anyway, this is my review of David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as separate from the Swedish adaptations and Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series. This is the one that started in English, in other words, and doesn’t need some form of translation to be enjoyed. It’s also the second localisation I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, the first being the hauntingly effective Let Me In, the American version of the original Swedish vampire novel/movie Let the Right One In. Localisations of course being remakes of foreign works for domestic audiences. Remind me to add that to the glossary. Remind me to start a glossary. It has been a while, hasn’t it?

In case you’ve been under a rock and you haven’t heard of the dynamite, world-sensation causing Millenium series, I’d like to give you a brief rundown. Basically, investigative reporter Stieg Larsson kept a rather large secret toward the end of his life–he’d been writing a series of crime novels taking place in contemporary Stockholm centered around the 21st century crime-solving adventures of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and independent investigator Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). The novels caused quite a stir, being published after his death, and were quickly adapted into a widely hailed series of movies in Sweden. I’ve seen all three of those, and–having not read the books–I can safely say they are among the best films I’ve seen in my life. It’s a wide category, that, but they belong there. Tight, quick, relentlessly intellectual without sacrificing any reality or grit–just perfect movies, really. Utterly fantastic. And now, they’ve given the job of making the new ones to David “Style Over Substance” Fincher.

Woo hoo.

The first story revolves around a classic murder mystery: back in the ’60’s, a girl was murdered on an island four hours away from Stockholm and now, close to his death, the old patriarch of the large, dysfunctional family she belonged to wants to know who killed her and why they’ve never found the body. To get to the bottom of this, he hires famous (handsome [frequently-laid]) investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist to get to the bottom of this. Not trusting him at first, he gets his assistant to hire an independent investigator to investigate Blomkvist before hiring: Lisbeth Salander, who is currently neck-deep in her own troubles as a ward of the state. To put this as simply as possible, the old man hires Dr. John Watson (a respected writer) to solve his mystery while his assistant unknowingly hires Sherlock Holmes to investigate him. Inevitably, Lisbeth gets involved in the ongoing murder mystery and sinister secrets of the family are revealed.

Not that there are many secrets that aren’t there in the open. Half of the living relatives over 40 are ex-Nazis. Not that there are that many left. Mostly, it’s like any family in New England: everybody hates each other cos all the old people are racist, misogynist family abusers. Which brings me to the biggest and pretty much only problem I have with this movie.

When Matt Reeves, a director with all of one previous feature film to his name, took up the task of directing the adaptation of Let the Right One In, his first instinct was to set it in New Mexico and change the names to American ones. Why? Because movies where people speak with inconsistent foreign accents because they’re supposed to be speaking foreign languages are annoying. Because it’s a condescending to the audience and insulting to the nation of origin, to say that their culture can be reduced to an accent only adopted by half of the actors. It’s better to have a movie where you’re better at directing it, where the actors have an easier job and can thus focus on much harder parts of their performance and where the screenplay doesn’t have to address which things exactly are in what language and when by setting it in whatever language they speak in the country the movie is set in. My only question for Mr. Fincher is why he didn’t just direct the English language dub of the original and call it a day.

The movie he’s ended up making changes so little that it’s really only worth it for completionists or those insufferable jerks who refuse to watch anything in a foreign language for fear of having to read during their leisure time. The performances are solid; only one surpasses the original (Stellan Skarsgård as Martin Vanger, if you’re curious). The screenplay is punctual and efficient. The cinematography is stylish almost to a fault. The sexual violence is kept in its brutal entirety with as few punches pulled as the Swedish version. The soundtrack is absolutely magnificent, but I was left with the ugly doubt: would a traditional score, written to picture, have worked better? A soundtrack, no matter its production method, should leave me no doubt. The same goes for an adaptation, no matter its decisions. This movie should be undeniably good. Instead, it ends up as a pretty cool thriller to see this December, but not the best movie at being what it wants to be in theaters this weekend.  If you want to see the better Dragon Tattoo, I’m obliged to recommend the Swedish one. But if you want to see more movies like this made in America? See this one in theaters.

I want to like David Fincher, I really do. It’s why I keep buying tickets to his movies, year after year. I want to see Hollywood re-establish itself as the home of talky dramas about deep characters and their interactions with each other. And if you do too, you should buy a ticket to Dragon Tattoo this weekend and tell all of your friends to do the same. The kind of movie you support is far more important than petty cinematic grudges against guys with perpetually misplaced priorities.

Hey, Dave. Quick tip: the colour of the leaves on the trees in that one scene you had an entire location rebuilt in Hollywood solely for reshoots because you weren’t satisfied with any of it on location? Didn’t bother me. The fact that people in Sweden were speaking English?

That did. THREE STARS

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