Last year, the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo exploded onto the film scene, and was also very popular in book form (with the book spurring interest in the movie, and vice versa). The movie made over $10 million at the US box office, which is really impressive of for a foreign film, and now its two stars are in major Hollywood productions (Noomi Rapace in Sherlock Holmes 2, and Michael Nyqvist in Mission: Impossible 4). But they couldn't leave well enough alone, and now there's a weak American remake.
For the most part, the story is the same as the book and the Swedish version of the film. Just after being convicted of libel (a result of failing to check the credibility of a source for an exposé), Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) is hired by a wealthy old man to solve a family mystery. Henrik Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer) loved his niece Harriet like a daughter, but was crushed when she disappeared 40 years ago. He has reason to believe that she was killed, and that the murderer has been taunting him his whole life, and despite his recent bad luck, Mikael is a skilled investigator who may be able to succeed where others have failed.
Henrik is a careful man, and didn't hire Mikael blindly. He used a local detective agency to run a background check, and that work was done by Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an extremely smart but very antisocial hacker who is little more than pierced and tattooed skin and bones. When Mikael needs a research assistant, Henrik's lawyer suggests Lisbeth. She's had a lot of bad experiences with men in the past, and reluctantly signs on with Mikael for the opportunity to put away one of the bad ones. But the closer they get to learning the truth, the more it seems that someone is trying to stop them.
It's impossible to discuss the American version of the film without comparing it to its Swedish predecessor. Unfortunately, the 2011 version falls flat in nearly every way. It makes a number of unnecessary changes which seem to detract from the severity of the story line. The most intense story element (broken into two scenes, with an attack and a response) is neutered by several such changes which make the bad less horrific and the revenge less surprising. Similar minor changes appear throughout the film, and always with for seemingly no reason and with weaker effect than the way it had originally been written. And it even has a different ending, again for the worse and again for no practical reason.
It's difficult to look at the film objectively as a completely standalone work. It does still have the same basic story, which I really like, but there are things about it that didn't work for me. It's still set in Sweden, and although all written text appears in Swedish, all dialogue is inexplicably in English (with a Swedified British accent). The opening titles are too abstract and artistic and don't add anything except to the already too long runtime, and the end also feels unnecessarily dragged out.
This year's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo suffers from the same problem as last year's Let Me In (adapted from the Swedish Let the Right One In). It trots out the same story as an earlier successful Swedish film, changes the language to English, and throws in enough changes (all for the worse) to keep it from being a complete rip-off. In both cases, you'll be much better off to just watch the original Swedish version (and both have English-dubbed versions if you have an aversion to subtitles). It will be cheaper and you'll get a better film.