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Despite claims to the contrary, a necessary re-interpretation of the story
After the announcement that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was getting an English-language film treatment, I decided that the hype had built up to a point where I just had to read the source material for myself. Though it is not without flaws, Dragon Tattoo is an excellent story with the important mission of raising awareness concerning violence against women. Mere days after finishing the book I watched the Swedish film. The hype train had me excited for an outstanding thriller.
The hype train let me down.
I was left cold and somewhat irritated by the Swedish adaptation. A ton of important plot elements were left out, some were inexplicably added (Blomkvist's memories of the island became far too important and contrived), and Rapace felt all wrong as Lisbeth. She was brilliant and violent, but lacked the quiet pensiveness of the original character. She did not come off as autistic and emotionally disturbed, just bratty and rude. Worst of all, I was constantly confused by the extremely rushed, strange new take on the story.
As a lover of foreign films, I normally grind my teeth when I hear that America is developing a remake. However, I found myself desperate for this one. I needed a movie that actually gave me the experience of reading the book for the first time, that made me care for Lisbeth and that truly disturbed me. Thankfully, the American adaptation (not a remake) delivered exactly what I was looking for. Those who say this version is unnecessary or a rehash must have seen a very different Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than I saw. The American take is jam-packed with scenes that were either skimmed or completely left out of the Swedish version. Yet, despite being more robust, the English- language Dragon Tattoo is incredibly paced, feeling less rushed yet hitting all the important plot points. The characters have time to develop and grow on you, the clue-finding makes more sense, and the killer is more horrifying. Screenwriter Zaillian knows exactly what to leave out and what to change (though the ending, which mirrors the book's ending, could have been arranged better). Craig, Mara, and even Plummer are spot-on in their roles and feel more fleshed-out as characters. Mara, in particular, inhabits Larsson's Lisbeth in a way Rapace did not. She captures Lisbeth's silent, borderline-autistic nature perfectly. Her fragile body and alien appearance even match the book's description. She allows herself to be vulnerable, but clearly regrets it over time. It's a captivating performance.
If someone were to ask me, personally, which version to see, I would have to say without hesitation that this is the rare occasion where the American adaptation is superior. I did not think it was possible to stay so true to the story under three hours.