It’s standard these days to check and see whether a new release already existed in another form. Unless you’ve been hiding in your basement for the past few years (but not your mom’s basement because then you’d probably know too much) you’ve probably heard of the Millennium series: three crime thrillers written by Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson. The set was published after Larsson’s death in 2004, received critical praise, and quickly became popular in Europe and North America. In 2009, three Swedish film adaptations were released.
Now, the first book in the series, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (original title, “Män som hatar kvinnor” [Men Who Hate Women]) has an American version, directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. With well-loved books and films recently released, the bar has been set appropriately high.
This gang of no-good misfits will hang you with stylish scarves if you mess this up.
It’s difficult to judge this by its own merits because I’m a fan of the first adaptations and didn’t see a need for any other versions. It’s even more difficult since I haven’t read the actual books.
3500 pages to go
The Swedish films were cold, dark thrillers, the characters felt wholly authentic, and Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander, a genius hacker and researcher who’s branded a criminal outcast, was complex and captivating. I came to love her and would have been pissed if Hollywood tarnished her in any way (perhaps ‘polished her’ is more appropriate.) Luckily, that’s not the case.
Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network) is known for both ominous, intense thrillers and his ability to make boring things engaging.
See also: Madonna videos.
It’s difficult to get all pertinent story information into your adapted plot while also developing characters we actually care about without making a five hour movie. This one clocks in at 2hr 40min, but it never felt long. Our introductions to both Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (Mara) are impacting and intertwined. Blomkvist’s stress over losing a libel case for a piece he published in his now endangered magazine runs parallel to Lisbeth’s daily troubles as an impoverished ward of the state (she’s 23 but requires a guardian due to being labelled mentally unstable for past crimes.)
Employed by a security firm, she’s also doing a background check on Blomkvist for Henrik Vanger, a wealthy former CEO who also owns an island inhabited by his horrible family, because he wants him to investigate a murder (despite his legal troubles.) Blomkvist is desired for his keen detective skills and newly freed up schedule, and Salander is a no-bullshit, young, technological savant. Now, doesn’t that sound like the makings of a wacky buddy detective movie?
Mara plays the role similar to Rapace: stoic, brave, sexual, and unabashed. Salander’s physical appearance, in addition to her punk paraphernalia, is important for the spirit of the character. Luckily, Mara transforms well:
I know: for a film heavily concerned with gender dynamics, must I bring up the female character’s appearance? Yes—because a little Avril Lavigne moron skipping around would have encouraged me to play with fire. Craig was a lot more dashingly handsome than the Swedish Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), which probably doesn’t matter for his character. I will admit, the look of the Swedish cast felt more authentic, but, that’s certainly a minor issue of personal taste
The story revolves around a murder mystery and there are several characters and relationships to keep track of. While it may be confusing—it seems like everyone is either old or blonde in a large family tree—everything is explained through the action and a bit of necessary expository dialogue by the end. Yet, you never feel like the script is taking a timeout to help you along. I found the Vanger family had more well developed characters in the Swedish film, and Salander’s newest guardian and the course of their relationship is also handled differently with more of an impact. Again, I can’t let that detract from this version.
Trent Reznor does another excellent job with a score for a Fincher film (like The Social Network.) His heavier, electronic-rock blend suits the tone and pacing, and I find he builds a perfect additional level of tension.
The trials and abuse Salander faces are just as disturbing and haunting as they needed to be. How Lisbeth takes control of her life despite it all is powerful and inspirational. She is a pure bad ass in every way.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: when a Vanger family member looks angry/bitchy/is rude/etc.
Drink a Shot: when Lisbeth changes her hair
Take a Drink: every time you think, ‘that was bad ass!”