American version of ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ even better than the Swedish film version

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

I feel as if I’m committing film-critic heresy, but here goes:

I preferred David Fincher’s American re-boot of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” to the original Swedish version.

I didn’t think I would. After all, we critics are ALWAYS supposed to prefer the foreign version of anything (I think it’s written down somewhere in a secret code, like the DaVinci Code).

And, may I say, in our defense, we’re often correct. The Dutch “The Vanishing” is one of the most astonishing and frightening movies I’ve ever seen. The American remake, even with Jeff Bridges, turned a nightmare into crud.

At least the Hollywood version of “La Femme Nikita” is watchable. But compared to the French original, no contest. Not even in the same ballpark. (How does one say ‘ballpark” in French?)

The original Swedish film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s immensely popular book IS quite good, with a career-making performance by Noomi Rapace, who’s currently on screen in the new “Sherlock Holmes” sequel.

But Rooney Mara — at this point best known as the Girl on the World’s Worst Date in the opening scene of “The Social Network” — owns the part in her own way.

For those unfamiliar with either the book or the movie, Mara plays the title role: one Lisbeth Salandar, a tough, motorcycle-riding, leather-jacketed punkette who’s as dangerous at a computer as she is with her karate moves (as several men learn in the movie, to their considerate dismay).

I’d rather not give too much away, but the film is essentially a mystery. Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, an ace investigative reporter whose career and bank account are down-sized when a libel suit goes against him.

Though we know his reporting was accurate — as does his boss, Robin Wright, with whom he’s having an affair — Blomkvist has some time on his hands.

So when he’s summoned to a private island owned by the Vangers, an obscenely wealthy — and perhaps, just plain obscene — clan of industrialists, perverts, nut cases, former Nazis and …well, you get the idea — he’s curious.

The sanest member of the bunch (Christopher Plummer, channeling Max Von Sydow) hires Craig to find out what happened to his beloved 16-year-old niece who disappeared in 1966.

The other members of the family aren’t especially helpful. But then, they can barely stand each other, never mind outsiders.

Though Lisbeth and Mikael are initially assigned separate plot lines — hers involves some of the most disturbing scenes of sexual violence you’ve ever seen — they end up working on the case together.

And doing other stuff…together.

Further, the initial mystery — the niece’s disappearance — takes on a more disturbing tone as it seemingly becomes connected to a series of ugly rape/murders, all involving Jewish young women (And yet, the niece isn’t Jewish).

Deep down, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is sheer pulp.

But it’s pulp invested with intelligence, craft and a healthy respect for the tawdry magnificence of penny dreadfuls. I’ll bet Quentin Tarantino wishes he’d gotten his hands on it first, but Fincher is plenty showy/tough himself, and he’s delivered a film of gut-wrenching glory.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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