The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) Review (R)
Hmm… This one certainly isn’t going to get anyone in the Christmas mood is it? It does snow in the film. It’s also going to be very difficult for me to review The Girl With Dragon Tattoo (based on the internationally best selling book by the late Stiegg Larsson) having seen the original version (all three in the trilogy, actually; reviews here and here, BTW). I find that I just cannot remove myself from it given that all three of the films in the trilogy were released here in the states just last year.
Another thing that makes reviewing this difficult is at the time I saw the original films I had never seen any of these actors. Noomi Rapace is now appearing in several English language films, but when she appeared as ‘Dragon Tattoo’ title character, Lisbeth Salander, it seemed that Lisbeth was who the actress truly was. She was the rare female that I would describe as ‘hard nosed’. Her character stayed true to her nature for the entire film series, even if the films diminished in their returns with each sequel. It wasn’t just Rapace, though. Michael Nyqvist WAS left wing reporter Mikael Blomkvist in turmoil. The villains really WERE Nazis, serial killers, and scary-sick perverts.They weren’t acting. I was reading the movie, so if they were acting poorly, I would have never known. The thing was though, they weren’t. The situations in the film were quite real (at least in the first film).
In the new film, I know this new Lisbeth ain’t no Lisbeth. She’s that actress Rooney Mara from The Social Network (another David Fincher film) and I didn’t care for her acting in that one (her scenes seemed very ‘staged’ to me). That’s not Mikael Blomkvist, that’s Daniel Craig! And he’s James Bond! And why’s Robin Wright talking with that Swedish accent while Craig’s still using a British accident? And hey, there’s a big name actor there in a seemingly small part. He won’t have anything to do with all of these murders now will he? Do you see how I an have a problem with the familiarity of the actors? No? I know actors play more than one part in their career. I know that. But I think it helps to ‘believe’ what’s happening onscreen when the actors are unknowns. It was difficult here to not see the actors as actors when I’ve seen this done well with unknowns. That’s all I’m saying. And yes, I said ‘ain’t no‘… What of it?
The film is directed by David Fincher, whose work in the past has had a dark tone to say the least (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac). I’m betting the seedier elements (serial killers, fetishists, S&M, dark secrets in general) of the story are what drew him to this project as evidenced early on by Rooney appearing naked (and fully pierced) in the first teaser poster released. Fincher begins this film with a very slick, chicktified… yes, that is a word. I’m using it… ‘chicktified’… version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” over what I can only describe as a credit sequence that resembled an expensive Super Bowl motor oil ad aimed at people who read French Vogue magazine… or a David Fincher directed James Bond film opening sequence, where the ‘Bond girl’ was more of a ‘Bondage girl’ and the star instead of James Bond (played by Daniel Craig). I didn’t like it. Sorry. Fincher was apparently trying to get the audience’s attention. It was artistic. Visual. Nerds will say the word “kewl”… but it felt like a desperate attempt to be weird. Fincher is known as a ‘visual’ director (and he is). He, like Hitchcock, really tries to give the audience something different with an opening credits sequence as he did in Panic Room or Se7en. In the former, the credits were striking, but didn’t seem to convey any sort of information to the audience or have a reason for being. In the latter’s case, the opening seemed to set a creepy tone for the rest of the film. In this case, not only does it seem out of place, it seems to be running at a tempo that is completely off kilter to the rest of the film. I’m assuming this was a Fincher film once again scored by Trent Reznor (Se7en, The Social Network). There are minimalist electronic screeches and scrapes all through this, but the music and the scenes of a bitterly cold winter just don’t mesh with the opening in my humble opinion. Maybe Fincher was trying to wake the audience up a little before having them settle into this nearly three hour tour… a threeeee hour tour.
Yes, Fincher (like a lot of other film directors) no longer seem to have the ability to trim their movies down to a running time that is tolerable to a general audience.There was much that could have been cut in this film to make a faster, tighter film. Just as an example, there is a completely unnecessary scene in a tattoo parlor preceding a scene where she makes use of a tattoo gun as a form of revenge. First, we know she frequents tattoo parlors. Hence the damn title. Second, she states she’s never used one before. That’s all you need to know. Frankly, going to get a ‘tat’ right after what happens to her seems a little lacking in reality (to me, anyway). But there were a number of things that seemed like they were there just to add space or because it looked cool. I love movies. I watch lots of them. Some I even say that I wish would go on forever (but I don’t really mean it). After the 2 hour and twenty mark, I begin to lose patience with ‘cool’ and just want the story to be told. I guess I’m sometimes similar in mindset to the guy in “Amadeus” that said there’s only so many notes that one’s ears can hear in one sitting. For me though, there’s only so much ‘cool’ I can take before I start clamoring for real substance.
The look of the film is typical Fincher. I guess he’s fallen in love with the ugly greens and browns because it seems to me, ever since Fight Club, all of his films are starting to look very much alike, only dimmer with each passing film. There is a crispness to the images, but it’s almost becoming a little more boring to look at. I kind of wish he’d try something different.
Even so, there are some spectacularly framed shots in the movie. Cameras placed in interesting places. Reflections. Stark contrasts… But it almost seems like Fincher’s more interested in trying to be ‘cool’ instead of telling the story. At least he hasn’t started using excessive super slo-mo, yet, like Zack Snyder and Guy Ritchie.
Is anyone still with me? I’m on a roll, so I figure I’ve lost everyone by now. I do that sometimes. I didn’t really give anything away in my ‘review’ of the original film and I don’t want to do that here, either, but I will run down a brief synopsis. The story begins with a journalist named Michael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). He has been successfully sued by a man that he’s written an expose on for the left wing publication Blomkvist works for. The allegations may be true, but the journalist has been set up rather well, probably by the man he wrote the story about. The story is widely publicized and this brings him to the attention of an eccentric head of a wealthy family, Henrik Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer). After an extensive (and illegal) background check, Vanger hires Blomqvist (under the pretense he is writing a biography) to investigate the disappearance of a teenaged family member.
The case is an old one, having happened in the 1960s, but it still haunts the family. The crime has all of the requirements of a locked room mystery. The crime scene is that of the family’s island and there is a list of suspects, most all of them part of the family. The family is dysfunctional to an epic degree. Members only talk to certain other members of the family. The family has ties to the Nazis. Many, many dark secrets of the ‘behind closed doors’ variety.
Nothing is expected to come of the investigation by Blomqvist , but Henrik promises not only to pay him well, but offers up information on the man who set up the journalist. Naturally, he agrees or we wouldn’t have a film. Meanwhile we get to know the other major player, Lisbeth Salander. She is the young hacker (with a photographic memory) who investigated Blomkvist for Vanger. She has an extreme volume of personal baggage and seems to be under personal assault daily from all angles. Even at 23, she is still a ward of the state and suffers particularly from a man named Bjurman who takes over her finances and oversees her ‘rehabilitation’ after her legal guardian suffers a stroke.
Eventually, when Blomkvist needs an assistant for his investigation (that he actually finds some new leads in), Vanger suggests Lisbeth. Their introduction is an uncomfortable one, but Salander finds the prospect of assisting in the apprehension of a killer of young women very appealing. And so it goes.
The film has a good bit of difficult subject matter, especially when it comes to the highly detestable degenerate Bjurman. Just like in the original, I felt his role in the story was extremely superfluous. It does have place in the second film (if there’s a sequel), even if it’s still distasteful. Here it just serves as shock value and to make the film longer. Plus, we get another scene where she’s assaulted by a group of muggers in the subway, which was more than redundant. I get it. She’s having a hard time. I don’t even think that was handled well, either, when she uses what looks to be martial arts on one to get her laptop back, then uses escape tactics reminiscent of sequences from the movies “Subway” and “Kontroll“. Although I thought it was redundant in the first version also, at least Lisbeth wasn’t portrayed as a superhero as she is here (at least not at that point in the series). It’s not consistent with how she deals with Bjurman. If she dealt with Bjurman as she does the subway attackers, I guess we would lose some of the shock value, though.
One thing that’s interesting to me about the subject matter (or maybe the contradictions therein), is the fact that while this is very much a film with a feminist message, it puts forth a character that is running from who she is to such a degree that she’s completely changed the way she looks, trusts no one, and continues to accept her own suffering as something as normal as brushing her teeth. I think Fincher capitalizes on the subversive aspects, but I think the original intent of her appearance is just to portray a defiant reaction to the oppression of society in general. Maybe the fact that she looks so different in her appearance is a way of stating ‘she doesn’t deserve it because of what she’s wearing’ or something to that effect.
I did like Mara (as Lisbeth) more in this than in the other film I’ve seen her in. I did think that some of the actions by her Lisbeth does seem out of character to me. Her willingness to fall in the sack with Blomkvist so readily just didn’t feel right (her willingness to get naked often was not a problem, though). There was a ‘one in done’ in the original film, that was more like the character’s way of saying ‘thanks’ (that’s a great way to be sure). I don’t think I cared for the extended ‘heist like’ double ending, but I didn’t care for it in the other version, either.
Daniel Craig’s typically good in the film. Whereas I think Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth would kick the living crap out of Mara’s, Craig’s bull headed Bond-like journalist would make short work of the Michael Nyqvist incarnation of the character. I think early on in the film, Craig seemed to still have either some carry over from his role in Cowboys and Aliens or was letting some 007 seep into his character. I thought it fit better when he was a bit more unsure of himself as he was towards the end of the film.
Christopher Plummer is always fun, no matter what he’s in. Whether he’s the good guy or the villain he tends to slip in a good dose of humor. He seemed to be enjoying himself in this and his character is even a bit aware of the trappings of the mystery genre (and says so at one point).
This definitely wasn’t the complete surprise that the Swedish version was, but how can it be for me? I knew what was going to happen since there were only minor changes made here. Some resolutions come quicker here than they did in the Swedish trilogy. Lisbeth even announces to Blomkvist some details of her own troubled past that I don’t think came out so early before. Still, Fincher’s visual style is atypical (even if I don’t like the dimness… the greens… the browns…). I liked the original version a little more I think, but that one had flaws, too. The tale is still an interesting one, though, so I’ll give it the same score I gave to the other…