Dragon Slayer

Though softer than the book and the Swedish film, David Fincher's run at Stieg Larsson kills at all the right times.

It's no secret why successful foreign-language films get American remakes. Most American audiences don’t like to read their movies. They like to watch them.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Rated: R

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara

And when the foreign-language film in question is based on a world-conquering best-seller, there’s a second reason: insane amounts of money.

The original Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted from the first book of the bajillion-selling Stieg Larsson trilogy, did well on the art house circuit ($10 million just stateside ain’t bad), but it was complicated, with a lot of subtitles to go along with the intricately woven tales.

The first film stayed satisfactorily close to the book, telling the stories of a disgraced magazine writer; a very smart, very tough young woman; a wealthy and insanely dysfunctional family; a serial murderer; and the attempt to solve the disappearance of a woman 40 years earlier.

The new adaptation adheres closely to both of its predecessors and does a great job, thanks to writer Steve Zaillian and director David Fincher, of making it both more accessible and easier to take than the often brutal Swedish tellings.

Truth be told, it’s probably only easier for those who know the story in the first place. If you’re not familiar with it, expect graphic violence and strong sexual content ranging from casual nudity and a couple of horrific rapes. It’s a true gamut, ranging, at least in my head, from repulsive to erotically charged.

Taking on what you’d think would be the lead role of Mikael Blomkvist, the writer who’s been wrongly convicted of libel, is a surprisingly softspoken Daniel Craig, who takes the character on an arc from tired but together at the start to unraveled near the end. Craig does a lot with a little, studying graphs and charts like a Scandinavian Ross Perot, sitting silently at a keyboard, clacking away, but he’s able to get across that Mikael is always thinking ahead. In his best moments, Craig is able to reveal those thoughts without words.

Rooney Mara latches on to the fierce, pierced, tattooed Lisbeth Salander (a role made iconic by Noomi Rapace) like it was created for her. It’s curious, retribution-minded loner Lisbeth who’s at the center of everything, not Mikael.

As all of the separate stories and the people in them start to converge, the film gets more grim and grisly, with a mood assist from the creepy score provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who nabbed the music Oscar last year for their work in Fincher’s The Social Network. Even the film’s straight-up tunes are eclectically chosen. Reznor, Ross and Karen O do a faithful, fitful cover of Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song” over the dazzling opening credits, and a later inclusion of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” in a frightening bondage sequence should remind people about the jarring way Quentin Tarantino used “Stuck in the Middle with You” in Reservoir Dogs.

In its original book form, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was about people who need to be saved, and the people who were doing the saving. The new film sticks close to that, though it does let the story extend a little further along from where the first film ended.

Yes, it’s been cleaned up a bit, with its impact slightly softened. But as with everything Fincher has done, it remains riveting and at times shocking. I love foreign-language films, but I have to admit, this version’s easier to watch.

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