Dragon Tattoo improves - slightly - on translation. 

People tend to scoff at remakes, and film buffs tend to scoff at American remakes of recent foreign films — and often with good reason on both counts. But director David Fincher taking on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? That's different.

Though the 2009 Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's international best-selling murder-mystery thriller was a well-made and popular film, it didn't distinguish itself beyond the commanding title performance of newcomer Noomi Rapace. Fincher, coming off the triumph of The Social Network and with a filmography heavy with similar material (Se7en, Zodiac), was thought to be ideal for the project. His version, it seemed certain, would be better. And it is. But maybe not as much as you might have hoped.

Fincher's version boasts a richer production design and more assured cinematography and editing but is ultimately more conservative than most of his other work. Fincher seems to approach the film more as a protector of the material than as a crafter of it — an ace director-for-hire keeping his own filmmaking personality at bay. There's nothing here as exciting cinematically as the film's staccato early trailer.

Whereas Fincher's awesome Zodiac was about obsessiveness, the merely professional Dragon Tattoo is mostly about plotting; thematically, misogyny and violence against women are the biggest connecting threads in the story, but, as in the Swedish version, these elements are insufficiently explored.

Content-wise, the two films are extremely similar: the story of stained journalist Mikael Blomkvist and goth-punk investigator Lisbeth Salander as they explore the decades-old disappearance of the young scion of a wealthy but corrupt family. The biggest difference between the two films comes from the degree to which they dig into Lisbeth's personal backstory and the degree to which they focus on the romantic connection between the two leads.

Beyond its more confident filmmaking, the biggest advantage of Fincher's film is its two leads. As Mikael, Daniel Craig is more charismatic and more convincing than the Swedish version's Michael Nyqvist. More compelling are the differences between Rapace and Rooney Mara in the choice role of Lisbeth. Rapace dominated the screen, playing the part as an industrial feminist avenger. Hers was going to be a hard act to top. But give me Mara, who brings a smaller frame and more delicate features to the role. Her Lisbeth is more skittish and gives a better sense of the character's history of victimization, so that when she fights back, it feels more momentous.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Rated R · 160 min. · 2011
Official Site: www.dragontattoo.com/site
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steven Zaillian
Producer: Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin, Søren Stærmose and Ole Søndberg
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgård, Embeth Davidtz, Joel Kinnaman, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic and Julian Sands

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