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Film review: It's worth getting a second 'Tattoo'

December 16, 2011|By Andy Klein
  • Daniel Craig, left, and Rooney Mara star in Columbia Pictures' "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." (Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
Daniel Craig, left, and Rooney Mara star in Columbia Pictures'…

As a general rule, roughly 99% of remakes fall somewhere between the awful and the utterly redundant — particularly when there was nothing wrong with the original. But, in Hollywood terms, there was one thing fatally wrong about the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”: Everyone in it was speaking Swedish.

When released here last year, it was very well reviewed (86% on Rotten Tomatoes) and made enough money to replace “My Life as a Dog” as the highest-grossing Swedish film of all time in the U.S. Why spend 10 times that amount to tell the same story again?

Amazingly, David Fincher's new version is worthy, even for those (myself included) who remain big fans of the original — a primarily Swedish production, though directed by the Danish Niels Arden Oplev. This is even more surprising, since Fincher doesn't bring the kind of entirely new perspective that justifies the best remakes (as John Carpenter did in his 1982 “The Thing” or Philip Kaufman in the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”).

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What he does bring is a strong dose of his style — his “Seven” mode more than his “Social Network” mode — and at least one casting choice that justifies the whole enterprise.

Just in case you've somehow missed the whole phenomenon: When Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson died suddenly (at only 50), he left behind three novels — “Dragon Tattoo” and its two sequels — all of which, like the subsequent films, were huge bestsellers around the world.

The book focuses on disgraced muckraker Mikael Blomqvist, who forms an unlikely partnership with computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, a punkish, bisexual, flagrantly maladjusted genius in her 20s. They try to solve the 40-year-old murder of Harriet Vanger, favorite niece of retired industrialist Henrik Vanger.

The Swedish film version does a good job trimming a 600-page book to manageable size; and Oplev makes all the right decisions in casting and pacing. It's hard to discern a strong style, which may be appropriate since, judging from the translations, Larsson himself was no stylist. He constructed a fairly good mystery plot, but the real reason for his books' success is Salander. Whatever his shortcomings, Larsson created an indelible, potentially iconic character.

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