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‘Dragon Tattoo’ brings something new to the series

Remakes are a common sight at the cinema these days, and most of them are hard to justify.  Usually, a remake simply copies the ideas and techniques of the original, only serving to remind us how good the original was and how inferior this version is.

A remake can work, however, when it brings something new to the story or offers a new perspective. Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” moved the original’s Hong Kong location to Boston; John Carpenter’s “The Thing” changed the alien from a “walking carrot” to a mysterious shape shifter.

David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” faces the difficult challenge of remaking a very solid version of the film that’s only a few years old. And at first glance, not much has changed between the two versions: Both feature excellent acting and writing, and display a cold, twisted sensibility befitting the grisly story.

Both films are based on the first book of the late Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.  Mikael Blomkvist is a disgraced Swedish reporter who takes a job investigating a 40-year-old murder. When the case becomes too big for him to handle alone, he hires a young, talented, but anti-social and often violent hacker named Lisbeth Salander.

What Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zallian do to distinguish their version is really get into the characters. Fincher of course is no stranger to films about murder-mysteries (“Se7en” and “Zodiac” stand as classics of the genre), but in this film, Fincher turns his eyes more carefully to the details of the characters instead of the grisly evidence of the investigation. This is not to say the mystery is short-changed: Even if you already know the ending, it’s still a thrilling race to the finish.

But the biggest improvement of Fincher’s version is our connection to Lisbeth and Mikael.  In the original, they were pieces of an intricate plot; in the remake, they are fully formed characters, living people with back story, emotions and goals.

Just like the film itself, actress Roony Mara faced a tall order in taking on the role of Lisbeth Salander, already made famous by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (who has moved up to Hollywood blockbusters like “Sherlock Holmes 2”).

Despite this handicap, Mara knocks it out of the park with her flinty but sensitive performance as a fiercely anti-social hacker with a troubled past and an unstable present. With her multiple piercings and bleached eyebrows, she’s obviously someone who doesn’t fit in with normal society, but by the end of the film, thanks to Mara’s strong characterization and sensitivity, Lisbeth is completely relatable and has the support of the entire audience (especially after the heart-breaking final scene.)

Daniel Craig is also excellent as Mikael, definitely improving on original actor Michael Nyqvist.  Not only does the current Bond more believably fit the character of a womanizing leftist journalist, but he also manages to bring a sensitivity to the role, especially in his scenes with Lisbeth. That emotional rawness we see in both characters makes their relationship believable and relatable.

As with every Fincher film, the technical aspects of the film are spot on, from Jeff Cronenweth’s cool, crisp cinematography to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ pulsing, eerie score. The supporting performances are also excellent, from Christopher Plummer as the old man who hires Blomkvist, to Yorick van Wageningen as Lisbeth’s sadistic caretaker.

Is the Swedish version an inferior film? No, both versions are excellent. The Swedish version does have the benefit of actually being in Swedish. I personally enjoyed the greater emphasis on character in the remake, but both films are worth checking out.


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