Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Where Does Lisbeth Salander Rank Among Other Famous Swedes? Just above Dolph Lundgren and just below Brock Samson.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Tasers out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Disgraced journalist teams up with sullen computer hacker to solve 40-year-old murder mystery.

Tagline: "What is hidden in snow, comes forth in the thaw."

Better Tagline: "Contrary to that previous tagline, this movie is not about unearthing wooly mammoths."

How Does It Stack Up Against The Original? It's better, and worse, than the original movie in ways that are largely out of director David Fincher and screenwriter David Zaillian's control.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Magazine journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig), in addition to having a hilarious name, has just been successfully sued for libel by Hans-Erik Wennerström, the industrialist he targeted in a series of articles. As a bit of a distraction, he's invited to the estate of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), CEO of Vanger Industries, who asks him to solve the murder of his great-niece Harriet. In exchange, he'll be given unimpeachable dirt on Wennerström. He's joined in this effort by hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who not so coincidentally did the background check on Blomqvist prior to his hiring. Lisbeth also enjoys body modification and torturing sexual predators.

"Critical" Analysis: Gus Van Zant got a fair amount of shit (and deservedly so) back in 1998 when he directed his shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. I suspect David Fincher will escape similar criticism, primarily because -- unlike Hitchcock's suspense masterpiece -- few people have seen the original Swedish-language version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And while Fincher's rendition isn't quite as slavish an imitation as Van Sant's, it's damn close.

Is it a good film? It sure *looks* good. Fincher is one of the best directors working today, and he captures dread and foreboding like few others (see also Zodiac). The slow burn as Blomqvist and Salander uncover the extent of the crimes builds impressively, and the entire film, coincidentally shot during one of the coldest Swedish winters in decades, is both claustrophobic and chillingly antiseptic. His handling of "that scene" between Salander and her legal guardian Bjurman is pretty much exactly as you'd expect, if not worse. There's a point during the ordeal when the camera backs out of the bedroom as Bjurman shuts the door and you almost allow yourself the luxury of thinking, "Whew, maybe he's *not* going to put us through this." Yeah, no such luck.

[I have other issues with Stieg Larsson's sadism regarding his main character I won't go into here. Besides, she gets over in the end, so that makes all the horrifying abuse okay, right?]

Generally speaking, the cast doesn't disappoint. It's nice to see Craig play a guy who isn't a badass, like James Bond or "XXXX" in Layer Cake, and Blomkvist, good a reporter as he is, is almost endearingly incapable of defending himself. Mara doesn't have the barely contained rage that made Noomi Rapace so arresting in the original, but she doesn't drop the ball much. Then again, with Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård and Robin Wright in supporting roles, the bar is set pretty high.

So fine; from a critical standpoint, there's not much to complain about. At least, not much that the American filmmakers had any say in. Larsson's original novel, staggeringly popular as it was (at one point a couple years ago, at least 25% of the passengers of a Continental flight I was on were reading it; how's that for a scientific measurement?), is a bloated and often messy affair. Lots of exposition and excess dialogue had to be cut, which may help explain why the movie feels as disjointed as it does.

Bu this was a problem with the original as well, therefore the central issue is whether the damn movie needed to be remade in the first place. I'm not going to go on a tirade about remakes, because at this point it's about as tired as complaining about hippies, or hipsters, or that pinko Jimmy Carter, but the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is so identical to its predecessor it feels like even more of a cynical cash grab than usual. Was a remake necessary? The correct answer is "no," but the realistic answer is "hell yes," because how else are you going to tap into that lucrative market consisting of folks who read the books but are too lazy to read subtitles?

See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it. Especially if you missed the Swedish version. That would be most of you, I guess.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is in theaters today. Take the whole family, minus that parent you might want to set on fire.

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