Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

It had to happen.  Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy has been far too popular a book series to simply get the film treatment in Larsson's native Sweden.  Even though the Swedish version was released in 2009 and featured an excellent performance from Noomi Rapace, it was inevitable that Hollywood would adapt the material as fast as it could with a high-profile director and cast.  Interestingly, the titular female part in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo went to relative newcomer Rooney Mara.  How will she stack up as a character that so many people have come to love from the books?

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is the recently disgraced journalist/editor of Millennium magazine, because this is a science fiction story where magazines are still important publications.  Mikael is basically ruined because he lost a libel case.
Glasses off: James Bond.  Glasses on: incompetent reporter.
At his lowest, Mikael receives an unusual job offer from Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer); Henrik wants Mikael to investigate the murder of his beloved granddaughter, Harriet, in exchange for information that will allow Mikael to clear his name and revive his career.  Sounds fair enough, right?  Well, Harriet disappeared forty years ago and her body was never found. Henrik suspects his own extended family, who own the island where they live, because they are the only ones who would have a motive to kill the girl.  Also, on the fateful day she disappeared, there was a car accident that blocked the only bridge in and out of town; Harriet was alive and well when the accident occurred, but was gone before the road was clear.  Sweet!  It's an old school, closed-door mystery!
It's a mystery that involves framed, dried flowers and a lack of wall space.  Thrilling...?

When he was hired, Mikael got to see the extensive background check Henrik's people had done on him; and by "extensive," I mean "obviously stepping over the line, into an invasion of privacy."  Still, Mikael knows good work when he sees it, so he contacts and hires the person who learned so much about him, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), to be his research assistant.  Lisbeth is rather abrasive, but she is extremely bright and is a skilled computer hacker.  Pretty soon, the two of them have dusted off a forty year-old mystery and connected it to a series of brutal murders.  They apparently didn't think about how much danger that puts them in, especially if Henrik is right and the killer is one of the few people with them on that island.
Luckily, Lisbeth is the human equivalent of the honey badger

The acting in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is good all-around.  I like Daniel Craig, and it was interesting to see him in a relatively action-free role.  He doesn't have quite the charisma or exude danger like he does in other movies, but he comes across as a direct, intelligent person here.  I will point out, though, that the way he wore his glasses when he was thinking --- hanging off his face, like a chinstrap --- was a ridiculous choice that I have never seen replicated in nature.  Or libraries.  Craig had the easy role in the film, though.  Rooney Mara had the tough one, and I'm not saying that because of her unfortunate bangs and bleached eyebrows.
Shouldn't she accessorize with neck bolts?
This is an incredibly difficult role to pull off; she has to be obviously smart, but emotionally detached, and yet she still has to be naive and emotional --- she is both vulnerable and a warrior.  It is a role full of contradictions, and Mara was very good at expressing them.  Time (and an adaptation of the next film in the series) will tell if Mara winds up being a better Lisbeth Salander than Noomi Rapace, but her varied performance was deserving of her Oscar nomination.  Of course, those two are just the primary characters; there were a handful of other important actors in this film.  Christopher Plummer turned in yet another solid supporting role; he has been on a roll for the past few years, hasn't he?  I wish he was given a little more time to emote on-camera --- his character is the only one with a true emotional investment in what is happening, after all --- but he did a good job with the time he was given. 
Robin Wright was fine as Mikael's co-worker/occasional lover.  I've never been a big fan of her work, but I liked the nonchalance with which she approached her relationships.  Stellan Skarsgård did not give his best performance here(I blame the character more than the actor), but he did deliver some great monologues.  It is to his credit that he was able to steal attention away from Mara in his major scenes.  While I have to admit that Skarsgård doesn't often star in good movies, I think he is very talented and we see glimpses of that toward the end of this film.
"I almost made King Arthur mediocre"
Yorick van Wageningen played a pretty repulsive character, and his performance was suitably unsavory.  In any other movie, he would have been a major villain, but this story casts him in a fairly small, but memorable, part.  You might also recognize Goran Visnijc in an inconsequential role, Julian Sands as a young Christopher Plummer, while Joely Richardson and Geraldine James get to be unfriendly to every single person they encounter onscreen. 

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo marks an interesting moment in the career of director David Fincher.  This is the first time I have watched one of his movies and noticed how differently he would have handled it earlier in his career.  In many ways, this film could have played out like Se7en, and that would have been perfectly fine because that's an awesome movie.  In other words, Fincher could have made this a plot-driven film with a variety of camera gimmicks to show off his skills.  For better or for worse, Fincher has embraced a more subtle touch, focusing more on the primary actors in his films recently.  Sure, that sounds good on paper, but I don't think anyone will argue that Brad Pitt was more fun to watch in Benjamin Button than in Fight Club.  Fincher did a great job with Rooney Mara and centered ...Dragon Tattoo around her performance.  He could have gone for more graphic violence, especially in the rape scene, but he focused more on the aftermath. 
He could have exploited the sex in the script, but aside from a little bit of nipple ring-flashing, he went out of his way to not sensationalize it --- and this is a guy who directed Madonna videos, so I'm thinking his restraint was intentional.  I also liked his use of the score (once again contributed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) --- it was well-suited for the mood Fincher was establishing.  Technically, I can't think of anything David Fincher did wrong with the direction of this film.

Of course, that's not exactly a glowing recommendation, is it?  The actors are all pretty good, and Rooney Mara's performance borders on greatness.  The story's pacing was fine and I liked the overall mood of the film.  It was just missing something for me.  Did I want the violence to be more graphic?  Maybe, although I was relieved that the rape was as brief as it was. 
Not this scene.  This was awesome.
Was it the weird blend of European and American sensibilities?  Not exactly, although I was thrown off by the fact that everyone spoke English, but apparently wrote in Swedish.  Was it the weird James Bond-esque opening sequence that looked like a Bond girl covered in crude oil?  No, I was okay with that, especially since it's the closest thing to a new Bond title sequence I've seen in a while.  What did bother me about this movie is that it is a mystery with only one major actor in the suspect pool; I wonder if the villain will be the Swedish character actor I've never seen before, or the guy that's been in Summer blockbusters?  I hate when my recognition of actors undermines a mystery. 
I also have problems with James Bond needing stitches.  Wuss.
I had also hoped that the climax of the story --- while true to the source material, it should be noted --- would be less anticlimactic.  In fact, the whole story seems to be building to a conflict between Lisbeth, Mikael and the killer, and we never really get a great moment like that.  Is the problem with the source material or the filmmaker's vision?  That's debatable, but I found the climax to be disappointing and the falling action to be less than triumphant.

On the other hand, this is a better movie than the 2009 Swedish version.  If you're going to remake a movie, especially so soon after the original, it is important to improve upon the formula.  Daniel Craig was definitely a step up in the acting department from Michael Nyqvist and Rooney Mara was about as good as (although less edgy than) Noomi Rapace.  I also preferred the small changes made in this version, like what led Mikael to meeting Lisbeth.  Fincher did not show off much with the cinematography, but his direction was still felt more than that of the Swedish director.  I feel a little guilty for having such high expectations for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  It's a Hollywood remake of a Swedish film (that I've seen) that is based on a work of popular fiction (which I normally despise as a genre).  Still, I think that the acting and direction upgrades more or less negate the anticlimax.  I thought that the Swedish Millennium films dropped rapidly in quality with each sequel, but this gives me hope that Fincher and co. will be able to improve on those films, as well.


  1. I feel that there needs to be a certain amount of time that needs to transpire before a movie should be remade. In this case, that did not happen, but I agree that improvements must be made if any success is to come from it. I loved the American film although; I have not seen the Swedish film yet, but I’m planning on it, after some time has passed. During my frequent business trips for Dish, I watch and prepare articles for my website that focus on unique, but beautiful films, which “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, is easily among. Obviously, this requires research, so I subscribe to Blockbuster @Home, where I can have access to new and old movies that offering me plenty of relaxation time. When I’m not working, I can focus on my hobby. I look forward to future films that will allow me to have the ability to write more articles, which will encourage blog discussions that are fascinating, as this film has triggered.

    1. The Swedish version is solid, but the direction is not very impressive. Basically, you want to see the Swedish pics for Noomi Rapace. They're not all great films, but her works is pretty awesome.