Hollywood is often, and rightfully, accused of being a remake machine. Churning out updated, but not necessarily improved, version of older or foreign films or previously adapted books. Usually though, a decent amount of time passes between the different versions. Now, David Fincher attempts to make a new adaptation of Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo relevant only two years after the Swedish version came out. Is it another product of “the machine” or something more?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVLvMg62RPA]

Straight off the bat for those hoping for another Se7en caliber thriller from Fincher, this definitely isn’t it. This is something much closer to Zodiac, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The film tells a rather simple story of a powerful, strange and twisted family living in rural Sweden. Decades ago, a tragedy befell them and now a member of the family contracts a journalist to investigate what really happened.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is very deliberately paced, never truly lagging or boring you. For the first hour things are definitely slower, but it’s pretty much required to move all the pieces into place for a solid hour of intense events and revelations, character- and story-wise. The whole affair feels quite cold and distant, even though the core story is one of love and loss. But that’s not something to be held against it, as it’s obviously what Fincher is going for, and especially when everything is done this well. Rather brilliantly, the film’s tagline, “What is hidden in snow comes forth in the thaw”, is actually very telling. By the end of it things, not revealing how, have obviously heated up.

All in all it’s the characters that are far more interesting than the mystery. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are delightfully juxtaposed in their roles, the classic dry-witted investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, versus the nu-age punk hacker genius, Lisbeth Salander. They are as different in personality as they are in appearance. This creates an interesting dramatic dynamic and the film is always at its best when the two are in scenes together, something that doesn’t happen until an hour in.

Mara showed glimpses of brilliance with her bit part in The Social Network, there’s obviously talent there and it comes steaming forward here. Lisbeth Salander is so obviously and completely broken as a  ”normal” human being and Mara practically embodies that. Her devotion to the role shines through, she’s clearly confident in all the non-flattering nudity and, shall we say, other unpleasant activities that the character goes through. A fantastic performance.

Daniel Craig could almost be considered unlucky that Mara is so good, as she overshadows him here. Craig is a great actor and shows a very different side to him than the one seen in James Bond, though the signature snark remains. On the whole, his turn is reminiscent of his terrific lead performance in Matthew Vaughn’s brilliant Layer Cake: A man of intelligence, not brute action.

Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård are the standouts from the supporting players, along with the revolting Yorick van Wageningen as Salander’s slimy financial guardian. Fincher knows how to get good performances out of his casts and that’s exactly what he does here.

If there’s another thing that Fincher know well then it’s stylish, beautiful cinematography and editing. This is an area where the film seriously impresses. Every shot reaffirms the cold atmosphere and showcases the stark, snow-covered vistas of Sweden. There’s one scene where something awful is about to happen and it seems like it’s just going to fade out, but then Fincher cuts right to the subject in question. Shocking isn’t strong  enough to describe the effect.

After the awards sweep last year it’s hardly a surprise that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver a brilliant and moody score. The odd instrumentalization and themes fit the atmosphere of the film and takes an active part in creating the feeling that the whole piece gives off. A lock for award nominations, and very likely glory, is all but guaranteed. The cover that Reznor and Ross did of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, complete with vocals from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ Karen O, accompanies the gorgeous title sequence (another Fincher staple). Together they encapsulate the film as a whole: Beautiful, dark and deeply disturbing.

Final Verdict: Not quite the feel bad movie of the year, definitely Christmas though, but damn near close, and overall a great piece of filmmaking. As a standalone film, bereft of any consideration of the book and the Swedish film (not “the original” as this is a new adaptation), it’s way beyond a worthwhile experience and stands among the best of 2011. It’s just lacking that special something to push it into legendary status. Hopefully Fincher can bring his absolute A-game to the latter two films in the trilogy, if he makes them, that is. At least it leaves you wanting to see more of the two leads and that’s always a good thing.

@Filmophilia and @Sveppi on TwitterFilmophilia on Facebook

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