150th Post: Battle Royale: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sweden vs. United States)


Better late than never, right? Here we have the fourth installment of the MHMR Battle Royale! In this latest battle, we have Sweden vs. the United States as Daniel Craig, Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara go head-to-head to see who can better adapt The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo onto the big screen. Word to the wise from someone who did not heed their own advice: don’t watch both in the same day; you’ll need a hug before bedtime.

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Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig and Nyqvist) is summoned by business tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer and Sven-Bertil Taube) to reopen the forty-year-old case of his missing niece. As Mikael gets deeper and deeper into the treachery and deceit that is rampant amongst the Vanger clan, troubled researcher/hacker/what-have-you, Lisbeth Salander (Mara and Rapace) comes closer and closer to the man she once researched so heavily for the Vangers. Mikael and Lisbeth end up working together discover the secrets of the Vanger family.

Full disclosure: I have not read the book, yet, I am told the American version follows the chronology of the book much closer than the Swedish version. This becomes an odd facet of the comparison as the two films revolve around the same pieces, but have largely different chronologies. For instance, in the Swedish version, Lisbeth only hears about her beloved probation officer’s stroke through another source, while in the American version she actually finds him on the ground and visits him multiple times throughout the film as her “happy place”—you could say. For the most part these differences do not change the outlook of the film, but some—like Mikael receiving the bible reference information from his daughter (another character not even in the Swedish version) instead of Lisbeth—change the framework and relationships.

The most interesting comparative feature is the Mikael-Lisbeth relationship and its portrayal. In David Fincher’s version, the pair moves beyond the initial coldness fairly quickly and right into an efficient partnership. Meanwhile, Niels Arden Oplev’s version contains slightly more tension and awkward behavior. Part of this is due to the vast difference between Craig and Nyqvist.

Craig is James Bond, so there is a guarantee when he’s involved there will be an extra dose of swagger and machismo. He brings his own flavor to the Mikael role and makes it work, but my preference lies with Nyqvist. He plays Mikael as a more reluctant, yet skilled, player in the game. He’s physically less imposing and generally more affable. Maybe my opinion would change if I had read the book, but the slight edge here is given to Nyqvist for the way he fits Mikael into the movie.

With regards to the marquee character, Lisbeth, both actresses access her deeply disturbed past in respectable manners. Rapace, in some respects, plays Lisbeth a little more reserved, as she doesn’t reveal quite as much about the character. I found myself asking more about her Lisbeth than I did Mara’s since it takes over two hours to learn anything substantial. Mara, on the other hand, brings Lisbeth’s strengths to the forefront almost immediately. She has less screentime in the beginning, but more than makes up for it as the film moves along. The revenge scene exemplifies this as Rapace showed a little more vulnerability, while Mara kept Lisbeth strong throughout.

The best part about both films is that each is around two and a half hours, but in no way feel that long. Very little happens in the first half of each film, but they are engaging enough to help you forget the length. The biggest faults come when Lisbeth is shown working. The Swedish version gives everything to her with immense ease. She can find whatever she wants, whenever she wants and however she wants. It makes the investigation almost pointless as every clue comes so easily to her. The American version does better in showing her actually work to gain any progress in the investigation, but fails in showing a highly skilled hacker using Wikipedia as her go-to source for information. A minor quibble, much like Peter Parker using Bing in Spider-man since no teenage nerd would do that, but one that irked me enough to mention it.

When push comes to shove, both films are entertaining and well made. That being said, the victory has to be given to the American version since Fincher and his cast were able to explain more about the characters with the scenes chosen, while the Swedish version left those of us who hadn’t read the book wondering. Lastly, to put the record straight, the violent scenes—if you know the story, you know to what I’m referring—are almost essentially identical, so people claiming the American version is more brutal were hyperbolic. If you can stomach some incredibly dark storylines, check them out.

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