The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – 3.5/5

Clunky, surprisingly pedestrian adaptation of the novel that is nonetheless a decent film, but nothing particularly unique or engaging or noteworthy. Nope, not even the performances. The intro was cool, though. Pointless and out-of-place, sure, but cool and nausea inducing in its weirdness, and full of all sorts of hidden stuff that foreshadows events revealed later in the series. Thumbs up.

The main probably with the film is that there’s just way too much exposition, especially in the first hour and a half or so. We’re told so much so quickly that it’s as though someone just picked up the book and started reciting its chapters to us rather than letting them play out in an interesting, natural manner. It’s too dense, and should have been trimmed somehow. I understand that all the backstory and Millennium newspaper stuff is necessary because this is the first part of a trilogy and yadda yadda yadda, but the original film managed to squeeze everything in without it seeming overwhelming, why can’t this? Mediocre screenwriting, I think.

Then again, the original Swedish movie had its own issues. I think the story as a whole is difficult to adapt. The first book gives the illusion of being a straightforward, page to screen adaptation, and, at its heart, the initial murder mystery does make for a good, easily adaptable yarn, but when you sit down and actually try to convert the thing to film, establishing elements of the second and third books included, it’s a mess. Maybe if they just focused on making this one and pretended the other, lesser two didn’t exist, it could have worked better.

I guess after having both read all the books and watched the original movie, it’s hard to go into this with no expectations. I knew everything that was going to happen and when, so nothing came as a surprise. Then again, that might not have mattered were this a better made adaptation. People not familiar with the story might be blown away, but a truly great adaptation should always provide its viewers with something new and interesting, regardless of their familiarity with the story. This didn’t do that for me.

The acting was also somewhat disappointing. I had heard such great things about Rooney Mara, and she’s okay here, but nothing great. She just speaks softly and mumbles a lot. And she has piercings and tattoos! Woah, edgy. Much like the story, I think the Lisbeth Salander character is an illusion, one that seems easily adaptable and infinitely rewarding initially, but, in reality, can only ever truly be represented in book form.

On the page, the character is exciting and dangerous, almost invincible in some ways, but on the screen, she’s muted, watered down, and reduced to stereotype. This is because, in the book, much of what makes her character her, that is, her genius, takes place in the dark privacy of her mind, for pages and pages at a time. Her thought process is what makes her so captivating, not her look or behavior. If anything, the way she looks and carries herself in the book only serves to further emphasize the brilliance that lies within. It’s literary irony. But a person thinking smart thoughts for several hours doesn’t exactly make for very captivating cinema. How would one even illustrate something like that exactly without being boring? It’s very difficult.

Thus a film version of her character must rely on what she looks like and how she behaves to get her personality across, which neither this film, nor the Swedish original, manage to pull off all that well, through no fault of their own. I think, given the complexity of the plot, the character is just impossible to successfully pull off on film. Salander is an illusion, like I said before. She sounds incredible on paper, to actors and filmmakers alike, but on-screen, it just doesn’t work. It can’t. But prove me wrong, Hollywood (or whoever). Prove me wrong.

Anyway, back to the mumbling: god, everyone in this film is difficult to understand except Daniel Craig. You’re in a movie: speak up, for Christ’s sake. And why have your characters speak English if you’re just going to make them all sport nearly incomprehensible Swedish accents? Either have them all speak normal, unaccented American English, or have them speak in their native Swedish tongues. Don’t mix the two. Why would Swedish people speak to one another in English with accents anyway and not their native tongues? It just doesn’t make sense.

I also didn’t buy the relationship between Craig and Mara. Why does **SPOILERS** Mara agree to help him so quickly after he comes to her apartment unannounced? In the book, she hacks into his computer during the investigation and helps him out with it before they even meet, showing she’s interested in the case, but here, he comes out of nowhere and she just agrees? Seems kind of odd, especially given how we’ve spent the last hour and a half establishing her as the cautious, reserved type. And the whole romance thing between them was forced and didn’t make any sense. And the rapist guardian guy was so miscast. He seemed way too nice and jolly to be a sadomasochistic rapist. You can see it in his eyes;  he wouldn’t hurt a fly. Just my opinion. **END SPOILERS**

Overall, eh. It certainly has its moments. It looks nice visually, but, save the intro, it didn’t really sport any of Fincher’s usual visual flair. I did enjoy how **SPOILERS** there are subtle clues as to who the killer is, including a neat trick they briefly use at the beginning and at the end of the film where the sounds of ordinary objects and doors in the killer’s home elicit screams of agony, as though the souls of his victims are still present and in a state of perpetual torment. **END SPOILERS** Very cool.

But the ending, damn it. Just like the Swedish film they changed the ending to something stupid and take away all its impact. Why? The ending of the book **SPOILERS** has the killer committing suicide in the end, **END SPOILERS** which is a perfectly good, powerful ending that reveals a ton about the character. But this? What does this reveal? Accidents happen? Yeah, great.

So, I guess if you’re a fan of the original books/movies and are overly critical like me, you may have a lot of issues with this film. But if you’re not familiar with the books and are looking for a good mystery murder type thing, you might like it. I still enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, it’s just nothing special. Could have been better.

 

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