A review of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

I went into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with an open mind. I loved the original Swedish film, largely because of Noomi Rapace. The actress embodied Lisbeth Salander, one of the best-written leading female characters ever, in all three Swedish films based on The Millennium Trilogy, as written by the late Stieg Larsson. So, in addition to what I said about having an open mind, I went into David Fincher‘s American remake, starring Rooney Mara in the role of Lisbeth, knowing it had a lot to live up to.

Fincher’s film is good. It’s aesthetically appealing and the acting is stellar. It doesn’t stray too far from the book nor the Swedish film, but there is just one thing missing when it comes down to the inevitable comparison between the films: Noomi Rapace. Mara did an impressive job as the gothish, badass hacker, but she just wasn’t as believable as Rapace. She came off as angry and highly intelligent, sure, but she lacked the “I’ll seriously f–k you up” spirit that Rapace oozed.

The role of Lisbeth in the American film was highly coveted by the brightest young Hollywood actresses and I don’t think any of them (Ellen Page, Kristen Stewart, Scarlett Johansson) would have done better than Rooney Mara. Mara was good; it’s just that Rapace is Lisbeth Salander. Mara exists just fine in the role, but Rapace just sinks into it.

Not only was Rapace was more menacing, but she was innately more queer, also a large part of Lisbeth’s persona. While Lisbeth’s bisexuality is explored further in later parts of the trilogy, she does have a brief scene shared with her on-again-off-again lover Miriam Wu (played by Elodie Yung in the new film). Mara’s Lisbeth goes to the punk bar alone and gives a half-hearted smile to Miriam before they end up making out against a wall inside the club and eventually going home to bed together. But they lack a connection; that kind of sexual tension that Rapace was able to have with her own Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) in an equally small scene in the Swedish film.

There’s also something to be said for the Swedish version having, well, actual Swedish. The American version had to explain more with news broadcasts and background conversations, but it could be helpful for those who haven’t read the books or are not exactly familiar with the story. I’m sure that’s still quite a lot of people, as the film itself has gotten a lot of hype, on top of the best seller status of the trilogy.

Daniel Craig, Robyn Wright, Christopher Plummer and the rest of the cast all do well in their roles, weaving the tapestry of stories and subplots together to create the suspense that a two hour and 40 minutes film needs to keep viewers’ interests. The Trent Reznor soundtrack perfectly accompanies the stark cinematography. Make no mistake: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good movie — it just doesn’t surpass or build upon the original.

A lot of critics were concerned an American version would be watered down, especially in the violent scenes the Swedish film was able to pull off. This wasn’t an issue, however. Fincher seemed very conscious of these concerns, and pushed boundaries with the pivotal rape scenes that are painful to watch, but ultimately necessary to understanding Lisbeth’s anguish-turned-fury.

And that’s a little bit of what was missing for Mara, specifically: The anger and fury. She comes off a little too young and skittish when she should be more self-assured and worldly. After all, she rides a motorcycle. Lisbeth Salander is fearless, not fearful.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is open in theaters nationwide.

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