David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo... didn't they adapt the Millenium trilogy just two years ago? Why didn't they cast Noomi Rapace, the 'Girl' from the original? Is it a faithful adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel? So many questions...
The original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was excellent and deserved its critical acclaim, but it wasn't in English, relegating it to a limited art house international release. While shooting on-location and in the native tongue added to the authenticity of the story's setting, it wasn't accessible enough by Hollywood's standards. The thinking is, you're meant to read the novel, not the movie.
Noomi Rapace became the girl with the dragon tattoo, partly due to her relative anonymity and an all-or-nothing performance. If you're doing a remake two years later, it'd be tempting to simply bridge the adaptations. Although Fincher wanted to swathe the audience in the mystique of her dark character with Mara and casting Rapace would sacrifice some of the novelty.
Fincher's one of the best filmmakers of our time with Fight Club, The Social Network and Se7en. If he directs a remake, it's never a half-hearted effort and we've come to expect a first-rate production. He's added his finesse to the adaptation, revising it for the story to flow more smoothly with a few tweaks to create an even more taut atmosphere than the original.
All in all, the changes enhance the story's flow, but strip detail and culture. Relocating the Vanger family to an "island", giving more weight to the co-lead relationship, adding more elaborate flashbacks, highlighting the father-daughter motivations, adjusting the ending and leaving out a few scenes help improve the pacing and keeps the audience captive. Although, something's got to be said for the detailed Swedish adaptation, which took more time to develop a sense of mystery.
The pacing and dialogue of mystery-thrillers make them generally better suited to television. Niels Arden Oplev's directed the first adaptation with more of a focus on drama and the political message, allowing the mystery to seep into the celluloid. Fincher's slick visuals and beautiful cinematography enchant and make the experience more cinematic, but the brutality of the editing and the stripping down of the detail - make it a little vapid.
Fincher doesn't patronise the audience, but attempts to simplify and condense scenes where possible to create a universal mystery-thriller. Some of the twists, especially the Fascist history of the Vanger family, are interwoven into the story instead of expanding into full-blown scenes and this interpretation limits the supporting cast's involvement to focus on Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.
Rooney Mara delivers a star-making performance. The character is dark and many of the scenes are intensely violent or sexual and difficult to shoot. She's transformed her appearance from natural beauty to gothic rebel and has a firm grip on the Swedish accent. Her commitment to the role is faultless and she captures the restless spirit of Lisbeth Salander and her history of hurt.
Daniel Craig may be the current James Bond, but his facial features make him perfect for the role as a Swede. Craig may not be an intellectual, but captures the vulnerability of Mikael Blomkvist, allowing the iconic 007 status to fade into the background. To his credit, it's something he's been able to achieve in numerous film roles post-Bond.
The supporting ensemble is bolstered by name stars: Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger, Stellan Skarsgard as Martin Vanger, Steven Berkoff as Frode and Robin Wright as Blomkvist's colleague and lover, Erika Berger. This casting is spot on and the performances are indicative, although you can't imagine first-time viewers having much trouble playing Poirot.
The only question mark would have to be over Yorick van Wageningen as Nils Bjurman. The actor is more than capable and Fincher has captured his performance with a sinister perversion. However, van Wageningen's physique is more 'Plague' than Bjurman and the family portrait's effect is lost. Peter Andersson just seemed more misogynistic, evil and perverted in the original when contrasted with van Wageningen's "bully".
David Fincher owes a lot to the dark driving music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which takes the atmosphere and emotional currency to another level. Trent Reznor worked on The Social Network and you could say his Nine Inch Nails background makes him more at home with the 'Girl' material. The midnight oil opening credits capture the essence of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an equal measure of unsettling brutality and surprising beauty.
All in all, Fincher has delivered an outstanding film and a loose adaptation. The alterations are mostly improvements to the cinematic experience and he's siphoned full performances from his actors, jolting the pacing, creating palpable tension and injecting an icy dark beauty into the visuals. It's a dark, thrilling and universal crime epic that sets the bar for two brooding sequels.
The bottom line: "Brutiful"