Link to a formal review at the end.
I try not to complain about remakes. It starts to sound repetitive, it’s a boring excuse to not like a film, and anyone who knows much about film can name a number of remakes that are beloved as classics. I saw the original trilogy of films based on Stieg Larsson’s books and was largely unimpressed. Noomi Rapace’s performance was great, but the direction, particularly in the final two films, was horrible, featuring everything from stiff blocking, to choppy editing, to unimaginative production design.
Fincher, even though I haven’t loved one of his films since Zodiac, is very much a director I can trust as compared to Oplev, who did the first one. I liked The Social Network, and didn’t care for Benjamin Button, but still, both films are expertly made. The same is true of TGWTDT (awesome acronym). In my review I basically harp on one thing, which I’m also going to harp on here: remakes are pointless if they don’t add anything or say anything new. My favorite films have a voice. Whether it’s an auteur’s voice in the sense that there’s continuity from film to film within a director’s oeuvre, or a John Huston-like, scattershot voice that resonates no matter the genre or subject matter, a voice in filmmaking is important. It endows the film with life, lets passion bleed through, and frequently adds small touches that make the entire picture cohesive.
This is both the problem and the success of TGWTDT. Fincher’s visual voice comes screaming through. As has been his penchant, the photography is digital, monochrome, cold, and sleek. The blocking is fluid, there are generally surprisingly few edits, and he doesn’t resort to cheap tricks like rapidly moving the camera to equate with action. Fincher’s style is actually fairly classic in his coverage, he just hides this classicism within a modern score, lots of violence, and shadows. Rooney Mara’s performance is awesome, it’s Daniel Craig’s best role in some time, and who doesn’t love Christopher Plummer? The production design is beyond cohesive, outdone this year only by Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: everything adds up, from the tongue-in-cheek Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, to the small knick-knacks around Lisbeth’s apartment. This is beyond attention to detail. It’s damn near obsessive, and it pays off.
One of the things that makes Fincher more of a success than say, a Zack Snyder or a Guy Ritchie, both of whom I’ve heard him compared to, is that he only introduces flashy, non-narrative camera movements at critically emotional times, and not to buy cheap thrills. One example (and one of the few) is where Fincher dollies towards Lisbeth and over her, tilting down to reveal her in close-up, upside-down. It’s non-narrative in the sense that she simply sits and the camera moves to her. It’s also non-narrative in the sense that the entire scene is only for after-effect (she has just gone through a pretty harrowing ordeal). But it’s appropriate in how the camera literally turns her world upside-down, throws her for a loop, warps her perspective, etc, in the same way that her assailant in a previous scene just did. That’s worth a lot more than all of your start-stop actions scenes Snyder, and your snori-cam, Cockney accented chase scenes Ritchie. Fincher’s also means more precisely because of how infrequently he resorts to this particular type of technique.
The failure of the film: nothing new is said. Sure, for those who have read the first book or seen the first film you can argue that new material is added, the structure is changed, the ending prolonged, etc. But ultimately, the same cold nihilism, the same minute emotion protruding through a scarred, stoic past, the same adventure and the same old vs. new journalism/investigation are all on display. It’s Fincher’s voice, for sure, but it’s Fincher’s voice singing an old song. It’s a cover band – made more appropriate by the Immigrant Song cover that accompanied the trailer and opening credits (though at least that song far distanced itself from the original).
I think that’s my final word on remakes and the like: add, change, revise, etc the material, and make it worthwhile. Otherwise, don’t just do it because you’ve got a higher budget.