Movie Review – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
December 22, 2011 7 Comments
I will admit that I was a bit skeptical when it came to the announcement of the remake of a 2009 Swedish film that is also based on the Swedish book of the same name published back in 2005. I mean given Hollywood’s new found (well, more prevalent) penchant for remaking everything under the sun, I wasn’t a fan initially of this remake, even with the clinical and precision skills that Director David Fincher brings to his films. In some ways, it feels like we are going to see an adaptation of an adaptation from an adapted novel. This is Inception like filmmaking, meaning I am waiting for this movie to get remade in the next two years. Aside from my disdain for remakes, I am intrigued by what the gifted David Fincher is capable of producing, what with keeping the icy setting of Sweden in sights, pulling Rooney Mara for the titular role of Lisbeth Salander, and having the partnership of Trent and Atticus composing the score of the movie, already has me on edge. The question that needs to be answered is; can Fincher find a way to not only remain faithful to the source material, but also make this version something unique and set itself apart from it’s Swedish counterpart?
The films opens with a reveal of a framed flower portrait, one that has a much deeper meaning to the recipient Henrick Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer, who might be channeling Max von Sydow a bit too much). We then cut to Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) a journalist for the magazine Millennium, who has just lost a libel suit against a wealthy businessman named Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. In the aftermath of the trail, the magazine and Mikael’s reputation is in tatters, until he is contacted by Henrick’s assistant Dirch Frode (Steven Berkoff) for job that requires his skills. Mikael meets with Henrick, which leads to the center piece of the story, figuring what happened to Henrick’s niece Harriet Vanger, who Henrick believes was killed by a member of the family some 40 years ago. While this story line goes in one direction, we are taken to Lisbeth Salander’s (Rooney Mara) current predicament after her investigative work on Mikael for the Vanger estate. Lisbeth is dealing with a rather nasty legal guardian, as Lisbeth is a ward of the state. Her dealings with the lawyer lead to a brutal rape and subsequent revenge on the part of Lisbeth. As her story wraps up, Mikael eventually progresses in his investigation to need the assistance of outside, which Lisbeth is recommended for because of her expertise and relatively illegal tactics in gathering information. Together the two continue down a dark web of secrets and veiled family history that leads to the answer to Henrick’s question.
The thing that everyone will be talking about, whether they are familiar with the material or not, is Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. A character who’s past is murky and filled with unimaginable pain and sorrow, has to find a suitable channel for emotional portrayal. Noomi Rapace from the 2009 version played a very goth like character, but also a simmering powder keg of emotional rage and strength. Rooney on the other hand, found a way to almost humanize Salander just a bit more, seemingly able to crack a smile through the tough exterior. This Salander is cold, calculated, distant and ingenious in her abilities. On the surface, she is a character that is seemingly miles away, but once we become acclimated with her on screen, there is a bright flame that burns underneath it all. The book that the film is based on, plays out more as a feminist revenge fantasy and Fincher delivers on the message with Rooney acting out a revenge rape and then hits the club for some drinks and sex. It is another strong layer added to the already strong, mysterious character of Lisbeth Salander. The portrayal of this character is vastly different from Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara. Mara’s Salander is pixish character, with a stark, washed out complexion, highlighted by dark features (hair and tattoos). She is the opposite of what the Hollywood ideal is for a strong female lead. It’s not to say that she isn’t beautiful to look at, she is in fact strangely beautiful with a ferocious interior that comes out through calculated execution of her actions.
With Mara anchoring the film as Lisbeth, I can’t overlook the contributions of Daniel Craig. His portrayal of Blomkvist is more of a James Bond, rock star journalist, rather than the disgraced, struggling journalist that Michael Nyqvist brought to the role in the 2009 adaptation. It didn’t detract from the film, but Craig does bring a nice gravitas to the role. His investigation and research into the Harriet case seems pushed to the limits, more so because he has something to prove with that libel case he lost early on in the film.
When it comes to the interaction with Salander, I felt that it was a flat interaction. The chemistry of the two characters seemed burdened on Salander more than anything else, as Craig’s character was there to get some ass from Lisbeth when she started to open up more. There wasn’t anything that made me feel connected to the two characters, especially when Salander opens up about her past. It seems like she is talking to a living brick wall rather a living human being. In a way, I can look past that relationship, if only brief, since Lisbeth is already intimate with Mikael’s life after the initial investigation. Her intimate knowledge of Mikael allows for a dropping of her guard and eventual, slight attachment to him as the movie draws to a close.
The story of the film has several moving parts that eventually make up the whole of the movie. On one hand we Mikael’s story line of disgraced journalist, turned investigator as the request of Henrick. Then Lisbeth’s story line is about her troubles with her legal guardian and subsequent line of work as a rogue investigator. Both their story lines don’t cross until half way through the movie. Once they are together, this is where the chemistry shines as each feed off each others energy, even if the love angle is more one-sided in the affection category. But the heart of the story is rooted in a the time tested, procedural drama. The characters research on the murky past of the Vanger family and estate, gathering clue after clue until the sudden, epiphany-like realization of who is at fault. Fincher made the boring task of research seem so pressing and exciting that you forget that you are spending a large portion of the film watching people leaf through photo albums and financial records. It’s that certain zeal that makes this an enjoyable movie, enjoyable being a subjective term considering the inclusion of rape and grisly deaths that are uncovered as a result of the research. The devil is in the details with this film and the use of photos as the main window into the past, reminds me of the 1966 film Blow-up, which centers around a series of photographs that lead to a shocking discovery. It’s a strong narrative led by explosive acting from Mara that helps propel the film ahead of it’s predecessor.
It’s hard not to compare the book and adapted film to the new, sleeker looking American version. I sat through the film thinking and comparing what I have previously seen to what was happening on screen. To tell the truth, I really enjoyed the Fincher version of the Dragon Tattoo. With a film that deals with shady pasts, a strong female character and visceral altercations, Fincher’s eye for the details and craftsmanship is unmatched. The stark white and isolated nature of the island lends a feeling of uneasiness to setting, making it feel more closed off than it really is. Everything seems so tightly packed and confined from the streets to the research rooms that the character inhabit at times. With this cold and distant feel, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is also disconnected. It’s a good soundtrack, full of the moody music you would expect from a film like this, but I do prefer their work on The Social Network instead.
As far as the feel of the movie, Fincher does provide us with some of his stellar, visceral visuals. The rape scene that Lisbeth endures is almost reminiscent of the 2002 film Irreversible, but not as long and static looking. I think that this is the film strong point though, as Fincher can captivate the audience with this voyeuristic look into a dark, underbelly of corruption and sin. It certainly held the attention of the audience I saw the film with and you can see some people shifting in their seats due to the rape and revenge rape scene. Even the portrayal of the Vanger oligarchs is even this web of fascination, with each member of the family seemingly at each others throats and the entire family having a questionable past.
For a first timer, going into the film with no knowledge of the material, will find this a strikingly, captivating film. You will be pleased with the story and reveal of the mystery, but also you will become enraptured with the character of Lisbeth Salander. It’s hard not to be intrigued by her and this is coming from a person who has read the books and seen all three Swedish film adaptations. For veteran viewers, this will not disappoint. It’s a darker, sexier update to the film and even though it is Americanized, it doesn’t lose the edge it has. From start to finish, the 160 minute run time is daunting at first, but once the movie starts, you will be sucked into the noir filled world. The acting is amazing, with the standout performance going to Mara and the better, stylized picture made me enjoy this more than the previous installments. I felt that there was the proper closure needed for the movie and even an extension on the characterization of Salander was appreciated. Come awards season, this will be a top contender.
*all images provided from here