It’s a truism that remakes always have to live up to their “original.” This may be less the case with the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because the original is in Swedish. I’m not sure how many people saw that one, but enough in the film industry did to launch Noomi Rapace on what seems to be a path to stardom (she’s not only in the latest Sherlock Holmes, but Ridley Scott’s latest, Prometheus). And that’s the major comparison – Noomi’s Lisbeth Salander (the misanthropic, misunderstood anti-heroine) vs. Rooney Mara’s. The first impression arising from this comparison could be generalized to the two films – that Mara’s Lisbeth is slicker, softer, more verbose, much more waifish, less complicated, speaks to the sensibilities of the respective countries’ film cultures. The English production features better-looking, and, significantly, better-dressed actors in every part (the protagonist excluded). An article on Rapace called the Swedish films unmemorable, but that’s wrong, if only because of her. In that article, Rapace suggests (credibly) that she could have played Salander in the English version, but she had vomited for 45 minutes after the final filming of the third installment (The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), as if exorcizing Salander from her body – it was an intensely physical performance with few lines. It seems as if in the third film, her only line is, repeatedly, “inga” (no), but it’s delivered by Rapace with a distinct smoldering intensity.
In case you missed the international Dragon-mania, the plot is complex, convoluted at times, but revolves around the investigation of a forty year-old murder surrounding a prominent Swedish family with Nazi ties (it’s not as cliche as it sounds). Salander is brought in for her computer hacking skills, but her interest in the case stems from her abusive past, which slowly reveals itself only over the three parts. The two protagonists, Salander and slandered journalist Mikael Blomqvist find they are alike at the core despite being anathema at the surface – the old book-by-its-cover.
Mara (below) is Hollywood friendly, making a certain abrupt transition to a mainstream look more effectively (read: acceptably). Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Blomqvist somehow manages, like the rest of the film, to make world-worn look prettier. If I were a James Bond fan (I’m not), I might have a hard time seeing Craig as a Swedish journalist. Whether these features matter to you may or may not be a function of how serious a cinephile you are. One thing that gives the new film a hard edge is Trent Reznor’s (of Nine Inch Nails) soundtrack – it feels like nails on a chalkboard in your head. Aesthetically, the opening sequence (the credits), set to Led Zepplin’s screeching could be fodder for a generation of visual culture students – it unabashedly exploits texture and form in a way the rest of the film, for all its visual gloss, does not.
There are some script deviations from the original, all of which highlight the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael in a manner the original doesn’t. The Swedish version keeps the relationship uncertain and subdued. The new Lisbeth has a soft side that in Rapace’s original is either non-existent, or so well-hidden it may as well be. The original has the mixed blessing of three films worth of character development for “The Girl,” who still remains an enigma, and the good journalist, who doesn’t need it. I almost didn’t see this film, but thought that seeing it in English would be interesting. Ultimately it was awkward, as actors put on varyingly thick Swedish accents (Rooney, incidentaly, pulls this off better than the rest), and text in the film flits between Swedish and English. This film has something going for it, and could develop a cult following for certain thematic or visual features, but as pure cinema, if the original film was unmemorable, the new film is barely so.