There are two things with which Hollywood has a spotty record. The first is making decent films out of popular fiction. Notice I didn’t say successful films from popular fiction, but decent. The left coast can churn out films based on novels that rake in cash hand over fist, but they’re rarely ever up to the version on the printed page.
The second example of stepping on the third rail is when studios feel the need to remake foreign films for the U.S. market. Most of the time, the results fare even worse than a novel adaptation.
So you can imagine the trepidation over The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which hits both patches of quicksand in one fell swoop: an American version of the Swedish adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larsson‘s blockbuster “Millennium” trilogy. Tall order.
Full disclosure: I have not read any of Larsson’s books. However, almost everyone I have talked to who has says the films handle the transition successfully. The main concern lies in how this version stacks up against the original. Good news is it’s just as good, and occasionally surpasses it.
The story follows disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who’s hired by aging businessman Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to dig into a decades-old family mystery. Blomkvist enlists the help of anti-social computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Roony Mara). Salander has issues of her own, as a ward of the state whose guardian is sexually abusing her, until she gets her revenge, that is.
The chief concern about the American version of Dragon Tattoo was how much they would water down the darker and more graphic elements of the Swedish version. Luckily, the producers had the good sense to ask — and pay — David Fincher to direct. Fincher’s resume (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac) reads like a virtual how-to when it comes to directing good old-fashioned gritty, disturbing darkness.
Also, unlike most Americanizations, Dragon Tattoo retains its Scandinavian setting, which leads to some curious accent decisions. To wit, Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård uses his natural accent, Mara tries to adopt an accent — and pulls it off for the most part — while Craig doesn’t bother and uses his cumulative British. Granted, it doesn’t sink the film or anything like that, it just can be a little jarring.
The three-disc Blu-ray release comes packed with nearly four hours of immersive, behind-the-scenes footage including interviews and more. There’s commentary by Fincher, features on the casting of Craig and Mara, as well as on-set features that want you to believe they got it right — this time.
Fox Home Entertainment
With films like Election, Sideways, and About Schmidt, director Alexander Payne has shown a knack for presenting seriously flawed characters, then giving the audience reason after reason why we should sympathize with them instead of hate them: sure they were obnoxious, but that didn’t make them bad people.
With The Descendants, Payne sands down the edge and gives us George Clooney as disheveled Honolulu lawyer Matt King. It’s a study of bad things happening to good people in paradise. King’s wife is comatose after a boating accident; his daughters are in full-blown teen-angst mode; he has to decide a land deal that could have enormous impact on his entire extended family; and he also found out that his wife was having an affair before her accident. “Paradise can go fuck itself,” King states in a voiceover.
While the supporting cast, especially Shailene Woodley as his eldest daughter, is strong, The Descendents reinforces the fact that Clooney has become one of the most fearless “A-list” actors working. That’s the intriguing thing about star power: when most people achieve it, they seem to spend the rest of their careers protecting the brand. Clooney, on the other hand, uses his to make choices that go out on a limb and stretch his talents every time.
The Blu-ray set is loaded with deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes extras, and several featurettes, as well as a digital copy of the film.
— Timothy Hiatt