Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

It was with great trepidation that we went to see David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first novel in the Millennium trilogy penned by Swede Larsson in 2005 (published in English in 2008). David Fincher is a great visionary director, responsible for the fantastic Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and last year's Best Picture contender The Social Network. This is quite possibly the first time that Fincher directed a film with certain expectations. The Millennium trilogy is a worldwide phenomenon and 2009/2010 saw the release of three feature film adaptations of Larsson's novels in its native language, Swedish. Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a fierce and gritty film, and it earned an honourable mention in my year end rankings. Noomi Rapace, as Lisbeth Salander, gave an electric performance that earned her recognition in Hollywood, and a starring role in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Rooney Mara was the least well known actress in the search for an Americanized Lisbeth Salander. Carey Mulligan and Scarlett Johansson reportedly read for the part, and there was speculation that Emma Watson's 2010 hair was severely cut in an attempt to win the role. Fincher's film featured a fantastic trailer, and it was one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the fall, with a prime release date just shy of Christmas. Upon its release, Rooney Mara won overwhelming praise for her performance, and even won a Golden Globe nomination. I just fear most of this is due to the fact that so few North American audiences saw the Swedish adaptation. David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fine film and the story holds up well, but it is tamer and less thrilling than the original. I wondered what the English language would bring to the film, but the film breathes more fiercely in Swedish.

(Adapted from my review of the Swedish film) Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is an investigative journalist who has lost a libel case against Hans-Eric Wunnerström, an industrialist that Blomkvist believes is corrupt. While waiting to serve his sentence he is approached by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the aging head of the Vanger Group. Henrik and his entire family live on a remote island that is only accessible by a bridge. Henrik hires Blomkvist to investigate the death of his niece Harriet, who disappeared forty years ago. No body was ever found and the police were unable to find a suspect, but Henrik yearns to know the truth before he dies. Blomkvist moves into a small cottage on the island and has access to old files and is able to talk to Harriet's relatives. Blomkvist is unaware that he was being followed by a young girl named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a computer hacker with a dark and troubled past. She must report to a guardian that controls her finances. This man, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), is a sadist and forces Lisbeth to perform sexual acts to gain access to her own money. Blomkvist learns that Lisbeth has hacked into her computer and forces his way into her life. Lisbeth then moves in with him on the island and the two begin investigating Harriet's case together. They discover that there was a string of religious-themed murders in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The evidence points to some very disturbing facts and the story does a fantastic job of keeping the viewer on his feet.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was adapted by Steven Zaillian (who worked with Aaron Sorkin on Moneyball, who won an Academy Award for penning Fincher's The Social Network). Zaillian took some liberties with the story, which do not necessarily hamper the story, but one such change completely alters the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth, and certainly the reasons for their sexual encounter. Daniel Craig is not a poor choice, aesthetically speaking, to play Mikael Blomkvist, but his performance was disappointing. It was also a little distracting when everyone was speaking with a Swedish accent and he kept his English accent. I also feel like Noomi Rapace was more comfortable in Lisbeth's skin. And while Rooney Mara offers a more timid and less assured take on Lisbeth Salander, I found that it was not as powerful. David Fincher is a gifted director and is able to skillfully pace the film, with a mix of drama and suspense. The film's title sequence was also a little confusing and unnecessary. Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) once again worked with Fincher and recorded a cover of Led Zeppeln's Immigrant Song (with Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O.). It is filmed in all-black and is entirely too reminiscent of a James Bond film, especially considering Daniel Craig stars in the film. Overall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good film (which its Swedish counterpart is a great film). Fans of Stieg Larsson's novel who have not seen the original adaptation will love it, but those of us who know better will be disappointed. My only solace is that Fincher will hopefully be better equipped to adapt the second and third novels in the trilogy.

My rating: A weak 3 stars out of 4.

1 comment:

  1. The opening is definitely very jarring and it doesn't serve the story in any way. It would have been an interesting side project (music video, viral video etc.) but as a lead in to a film which is supposed to be equal parts quiet and creepy (with the occasional foray into action) it does not serve well. Now I am willing to admit that going in I was ready not to like it and try as I might (and I tried) I could not get into the portrayal of Lisbeth from Rooney Mara. And for me, that is the key to the whole thing. As Matt mentioned, Noomi Rapace lived and breathed this character and while Mara certainly took the time to craft her own perspective I was left feeling that she missed the mark.

    For me Lisbeth should be visually slight (in the book she is mentioned to weigh 90 lbs) but personally imposing. The key here is that because she is so small people try to take advantage of her but because of her personality no one ends up succeeding. With Mara's portrayal of the character she comes across as both slight and sightly afraid, which is something (for me) that Lisbeth never is. That is the key to her character for me, that even when she should be scared....she's not. It puts her in insane situations and somehow manages to work in her favour but she does not always come out the other side unscathed.

    Ultimately it's an interesting film, if a little slow. I think being in possession of the answers to all the questions that Lisbeth and Mikael are asking makes the process of sifting through all this information a little tedious for the repeat viewer. I also think that Fincher may have elongated the wrong moments in some instances in an attempt to set simultaneous events apart from one another (and show their dichotomy). This serves to offset the pacing of certain key moments in a way that I'm not totally comfortable with.

    As Matt mentioned, it's well made, if a little cavalier so if you've only read the books or have no knowledge of the story you will likely enjoy it but if you have the chance, I would suggest checking out the original Swedish adaptation instead.