I knew what was coming. I saw the Swedish film when it first came out. And read the book afterwards. Yet nothing could have prepared me for the visceral intensity that David Fincher’s take on the story of Lisbeth Salander (Ronney Mara) holds. Stieg Larsson’s story is already a gripping thriller that needs no further advertising. This is the story of a girl with a terrible past, who is proudly isolated and dangerously angry; the first installment doesn’t dwell too deep into the back-story, but it lays out a twisted series of murders where the broken heroine begins to heal.
A good story needs a great character to carry it through, and that is exactly what makes the Millennium Trilogy so appealing. Salander is like no other popular heroine out there. She is thin, practically starving, broken, essentially psychotic, isolated, but more importantly fearsomely intelligent. Movies need more characters like her. And Rooney Mara, like Noomi Rapace in the original 2009 Swedish film, plays the character with an implosive intensity few actors are capable of.
The story has her teaming up with Mikeal Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a man she had originally investigated, to solve the murder of Harriet Vagner, the niece of an elderly millionaire (Christopher Plummer), who’s family has more than one skeleton hiding in their closet. The mystery, like and Agatha Christie novel, has a limited number of suspects. The murder occurred in an island, cut off from civilization, during a family reuinion. If Harriet was murdered, it had to be done by one of the family members. Problem is no one in the family is talking to each other. Let alone Blomkvist or that girl with the tattoo. Everyone is a suspect.
Thrillers as well conceived as this are hard to come by, so it is no mystery that the story has been told in two films, less than two years apart. Because of this it is impossible not to compare. Is this better than its Swedish counterpart? I am going to be political and say that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is good proof that a good story can be retold in different ways and still be effective. This is not a better film than its predecessor, nor is it worse. It is an equal.
David Fincher is a master craftsman, and the film hits you in the gut more often and more cleverly than the Swedish version did. Yet the Swedish version had an earnestly to it this one lacks. My guess is that it takes a Swedish filmmaker to accurately portray how isolating a Swedish winter can become. This film goes for a visceral effect, while its predecessor was somewhat more emotional.
I like them both. But this film might be much friendlier to an American audience, accustomed to loud films, and a visceral effect. Nevertheless I warn: this is not a film for the faint of heart.