One might assume that David Fincher’s Girl With a Dragon Tattoo (2011) would be simply a copy of a copy of a copy; Stieg Larsson gave us the novel upon which everything was based in 2005, and Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev followed up in 2009 with the first cinematic adaptation. However, to assume that Fincher would ever fail to differentiate himself from the masses would be a serious shame-on-you situation.
The novel is what it is: an interesting story with a great deal of captivating exposition, coupled with some carefully deposited mystery-action style flair toward the end, although not written in a way that is particularly interesting, stylistically. The Swedish film, more or less, follows suit, careful not to exclude more than needed and still clocking in at the acceptable but still quite long two and a half hour runtime. David Fincher, however, differentiates slightly from both the film adaptation and the novel, making storyline additions that didn’t exist in either the book nor in Oplev’s version, omitting certain storyline components that existed in both entirely, and, as is his trademark, making the film into a truly beautiful spectacle.
While the Swedish film focuses mostly on Mikael Blomkvist’s character (played by Michael Nyqvist), Fincher’s adaptation completely spotlights Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). In fact, the film itself would have been entirely lost, in my opinion, without Rooney Mara’s absolutely brilliant performance. Mara’s Lisbeth is much weirder, much more fierce, much more believably “antisocial,” and yet still much more human and much less a “scripted character” than her Swedish Noomi Repace’s counterpart.
On the other hand, Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist is much more assured than Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist’s. While Craig plays Blomkvist as a man pissed off that he couldn’t prove what he knew to be true, Nyqvist plays a man a little less surefooted, a little less pissed and a little more concerned about the rest of his career and his impending jail sentence. No mention of a jail sentence in Fincher’s version
Craig’s Blomkvist is a somewhat Americanized, archetypal “divorcee dad,” struggling to convince himself he’s trying to remain relevant in his growing daughter’s life, while also giving the audience the impression that he really isn’t around much to work on that. Craig brings into the film a James Bond-influenced confidence that I just can’t be sure was intended in the novel, although it isn’t necessarily bad. He is Daniel Craig and he is 007, after all.
Lisbeth and Mikael’s storylines run parallel to and separate from each other for a good portion of the Fincher’s film before interweaving in about the third act. This gives the audience a chance to follow each character through their own lives and experiences so that we might see who they are as autonomous individuals before they’re paired up to solve a mystery later in the film—a choice that I really appreciated, especially when it came down to the kind of exposition that Fincher put into Lisbeth. Not only do we get to see the stroke situation with the guardian that Lisbeth does seem to have an earnest relationship with, we also get to see the sadistic replacement guardian, her punishment/revenge, her follow-up confrontation with said sadist in the elevator to make sure he’s behaving, and finally, her visit back to her original guardian to inform him that she’s “made a friend.” This looking glass that Fincher gives us into Lisbeth’s life makes her character a far more sympathetic member of the film, the most sympathetic member of the film, in fact, which was not a simple feat, considering how different and “antisocial” the character of Lisbeth is written as. It was entirely refreshing to see Fincher’s take on Lisbeth, as he makes her into the centerpiece hero of the film in a very alternative way that disregards her gender and simply makes her an unconventional, individualistic hero.
Fincher’s film does have a tendency to come off as far more tuned up for an American audience raised on free-range Hollywood cinema, rather than something that stays a little closer to the novel’s true intentions, but I suppose that this is neither here nor there. While the Sweden of Oplev’s film is cold and wintery, the Sweden of Fincher’s is blustery, snow-laden, and frostbite inducing—seemingly much closer to the Arctic tundra than to Northern Europe, for example. From the get-go, it’s also far easier in Fincher’s film to suspect that Martin (Stellan Skarsgard) had something to do with the whole thing.
I also cannot help but find it somewhat bothersome when a film’s story is set in another country and all of these people in that country who are supposed to be native to said country just happen to all speak English to each other. I suppose that this is an unrealistic complaint, but there was something that felt far more authentic in hearing Swedish people speaking Swedish in Sweden and reading along with subtitles in the original adaptation.
However, Fincher’s adaptation gives the audience something far more powerful with his treatment of Lisbeth’s character, while the Swedish version failed to capitalize on that potential, and I think that Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander alone is enough to encourage anyone to endure a viewing, especially if one has seen the Swedish version first or read the novels themselves.