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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Daniel Craig stars in Stieg Larsson best seller

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At least two questions accompany the remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Will David Fincher's new version be better than Stieg Larsson's book, and what about the original Swedish film? Make that three: Why remake a movie that's only two years old and has been seen by millions of people around the world? The cynic's answer to that question is one word: Hollywood. The movie industry smells money, but fortunately the project came into the hands of a director (Seven and Zodiac) who understands edginess.

Working with a much bigger budget than the Swedish original and an international star, Daniel Craig, as the journalist hero Mikael Blomkvist, Fincher's iteration is better in some ways than the previous film version—and better even than the book itself. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian condensed the essentials of Larsson's story, leaving out the dull digressions without impinging on the integrity of the characters. Like the Swedish film, Fincher's Dragon Tattoo is a long movie that doesn't feel long. The tempo is just right. But Fincher moves the story forward with greater cinematic sophistication, incorporating swift flashbacks and showing the back-story through batteries of archival photos and documents scanned onto the omnipresent laptops.

Larsson intended Blomkvist as the protagonist, but once the story leapt from the page to the screen, the titular girl, Lisbeth Salander, was bound to be the star. The Swedish Salander, Noomi Rapace (the Gypsy in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), was somehow more authentic as the computer-hacking, kickboxing, extreme punk anti-hero than her Hollywood replacement, Rooney Mara. Mara, however, cuts a memorable figure as a dark avenger all in black, sweeping along the highways at high speed on her motorcycle. Zaillian's script gives her glimmers of humor without subtracting from her introverted, disturbed anger. Salander's infamous rape scene at the hands of her guardian, as well as her payback, are just as graphic and unpleasant as in the original.

Blomkvist and Salander eventually converge through their common concern over crimes of the strong against the weak, especially powerful men over women. Her photographic memory and prodigious computer skills help the dogged investigative reporter unravel a decades-old mystery in one of Sweden's old-money families—a clan with more concealed skeletons than a graveyard. A serial killer preying on women emerges from a story that remains captivating through the end, even if you've already read the book and seen the other movie.