Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Movie Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Director – David Fincher
158 Min; R
Mikael Blomkvist - Daniel Craig
Lisbeth Salander - Rooney Mara

My favorite moment in David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the trippy opening sequence set to a memorable rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, a guttural outpouring of the lyrics “A-ah-ahh-ah, ah-ah-ahh-ah/We come from the land of the ice and snow/from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow” as images of the title character move and sway and transform into various shapes and colors. This is the perfect opening for the film and very much reminds me of a vintage James Bond film, though I’m not trying to draw any comparisons. The entire first few minutes set the mood and tone in a mesmerizing way, as if to punish us into submission before the actual film begins.

It has been nearly 2 years since I first saw Neils Arden Opley’s vision of this film –Swedish and subtitled in English – and I feel compelled to admit that because it is nearly impossible for me to view or think about Fincher’s version without comparing the two pieces of work. My initial reaction to Opley’s film was a wonderful 5/5 rating, perhaps not a technically perfect film, but largely entertaining and carried so well by the two main characters (Michael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, played by Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace.) With Fincher we find a much more technical and beautiful film with wonderful muted colors and a haunting score by award winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who have worked so well in previous Fincher films, but we just don’t get the overall ‘it’ factor which moves it from a solid film to a great film. What we get, in fact, is a faithful adaptation (with a few head-scratching changes) shot beautifully and told in a coherent way, but ultimately lacking in an overwhelming way.

If you are unfamiliar with the story it goes like this: In the bitter cold of a Swedish winter the desire of one man to solve a 40 year old mystery burns with passion. Now an old man, Henrik Vanger still yearns to know what became of Harriet, the girl he thought of as his own daughter, so many years ago when she disappeared and was presumed murdered. His extensive family all eager to get their hands on the family business and fortune had been gathered at the family compound on an island, cut off from the mainland for 24 hours due to an accident on the only bridge to the mainland, and for 40 years it has been suspected that one of them must have been the killer. Vanger wants answers and is willing to try one more avenue to obtain them. His yearly reminder of a framed, pressed flower from the killer haunts the patriarch into near madness.

The girl with the dragon tattoo is Lisbeth, a hard-edged, chain-smoking, young punk woman with piercings and tattoos and a giant chip on her shoulder who also happens to be a world class computer hacker. Rooney Mara takes on the dark role and carries herself well, but she never really reaches the level of hardened hatred I found so appealing by Rapace. In fact, Mara’s Salander ultimately feels like a watered down version of what she should be. Daniel Craig plays the role of Michael Blomkvist, publisher/reporter of the Millenium newspaper, who is caught up in a scandal for which he claims he has been set up. A series of events brings him to Henrik Vanger who asks him to use his skills to take a look over 40 years worth of information about the disappearance of Harriet. Craig is simply a the messenger in this role, a known actor with good charm who is there to speak the lines from the novel and move his body from point A to point B to fulfill the plotlines. From the moment he was cast I was saying that it wasn’t the right fit, that he was just too secure in himself, too self assured, to easily self sufficient. What made Nyqvist so great was his absolute human qualities contrasted with those of Salander. With Craig it just felt like he could almost never find himself in any danger. The guy is just too perfect.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of a series of 3 novels by Stieg Larsson adapted into Swedish films just a few years ago. The original working title in Swedish was Men Who Hate Women – so keep that in mind when deciding if this film is for you. The film depicts several scenes of brutal sexual assault, but somehow in Opley’s version these scenes feel very needed and very real. With Fincher, the same scenes almost feel contrived and placed for shock value, though I do concede my appreciation for the original version of this film may be clouding my judgment.

I loved the wintry landscapes and hi def snowflakes, the sense of dread and despair in each shot, but I found fault with the length of the film and, especially, the final 20 minutes. Yes the story builds to a climax and then a come down, but in Fincher’s version it felt as if everything after the climax was on a downhill slide proportionate to an avalanche in slow motion – a lot of clean up with no suspense.

**** out of 5

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