The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

27 Dec

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Year: 2011
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic, Embeth Davidtz, Elodie Yung
MPAA Rating: R, brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language
Runtime: 158 min
IMDb Rating: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 71

 

Yes, last year the Swedish adaptation of the hugely popular Stieg Larsson novel came out, and it was seriously great (I ranked it as my thirty-fifth favorite film of 2010, giving it an A-), and it had a breakout performance from Noomi Rapace in the role of Lisbeth Salander (which I ranked as my tenth favorite by a leading actress in 2010). So, of course people will say that it’s unnecessary to get a new adaptation only a year later. Well, I won’t say if thinking that was wrong or right; all I’ll say is that by the second you walk out of this American adaptation you’ll realize that this is a masterpiece, surpassing whatever great expectations were set by the original film, and finding in Rooney Mara the perfect actress to tackle on the role of Lisbeth Salander, no matter how great Ms. Rapace was a year ago. This is David Fincher proving to us why he’s one of the Top 3 directors working today, following last year’s masterpiece The Social Network (my second favorite film of 2010), with this one; going from hackers in Harvard to hackers in Sweden, but that doesn’t have any other similarities, the cold of Sweden making the cold of Cambridge seem like child’s play, and crafting a film that’s over two-and-a-half hours and that’s unapologetically brutal and yet so, so captivating. This is genius stuff, one of the very best films of the years hands down.

A lot was said for months about the search for the perfect actress to play Lisbeth Salander. And rightfully so, the role was hugely demanding, had just been played extremely well by Noomi Rapace just a year before, and, in the hands of the wrong actress, would make the movie crumble down. So pretty much every great young actress in Hollywood tried out for the role: Carey Mulligan, Kristen Stewart, Ellen Page, Mia Wasikowska, Evan Rachel Wood, you name it. Natalie Portman was supposedly offered the role but declined due to exhaustion from all the Black Swan craziness, unable to throw herself into such an intense role for the second year in a row. Jennifer Lawrence’s name was also thrown around, one of the brightest young actresses, but ultimately she was said to be too tall for the role. Scarlett Johansson was also considered, but Mr. Fincher considered her too sexy to play this role of a recluse hacker with a really weird kind of sex appeal.

All of their losses are our gain, as Mr. Fincher pushed and pushed for Rooney Mara, a girl who had appeared in The Social Network in a small but pivotal role, as Erica Albright, the girl you see in the opening scene at the bar telling Mark Zuckerberg he’s an asshole, effectively causing him to create Facebook out of spite towards her. She was made to audition time and time again, and finally won the role. And the stuff she brings to the table is such an incredible level of commitment that you can’t imagine any of the other prospective actresses would have brought, she’s fireworks in this film, and it would be an insult if she didn’t get an Oscar nomination (though she actually probably won’t).

I get why some people would argue against remaking a film that just a year ago did such a great job at capturing a story that, being written by a Swede and set in Sweden, was pretty much all their own. But people, take a look at what’s at the bottom of this story and you’ll realize why it needed to be told on a wider canvas, with a bigger budget, for a broader audience, with one of the most masterful eyes in cinema directing. This is a story about a female heroine, a different kind of heroine, for sure, but one that, in her quest of being an avenger against men who exact hatred towards other women, is a heroine that’s revolutionary and incredibly relevant, and a heroine we haven’t seen in films yet and that really gets to you in this one.

Because Lisbeth Salander is a truly unique character. To have a hero in this kind of film that isn’t a white male of middle age guy (because as great as Daniel Craig is as Mikael Blomkvist, this is Lisbeth’s film and story) is truly something special, a thin white girl with a petite frame and a style full of black clothing and piercings, that suggests either a hardcore goth or an S&M enthusiast. And the stuff Ms. Mara does with her is awe-inspiring, showing her unbelievable intelligence just as well as she hides her emotional scars, her eyes intently focussed underneath the strands of jet black hair that fall down her face. It’s an unbelievable character and a spell-binding performance, able to seduce you just as perfectly as she’s able to intimidate you, a woman who plays by her own set of rules, trusting no one but herself.

Screenwriter Steve Zaillian made a few changes to the story, that much is true, but this is a great writer and it still follows the story pretty close by and is quite similar to its Swedish counterpart, but from those changes and the subtle alterations made by Mr. Fincher, the film starts feeling different, becoming its own, different beast. From the minute the opening credits start rolling along David Fincher will have grabbed you by the throat and won’t let go for one hundred and fifty-eight minutes; it opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Karen O that plays through a series of really piercing images that will set the tone for the rest of the film. That opening sequence is a thing of brilliance, and the whole score throughout the entire movie is pretty much revolutionary, the stuff that Mr. Reznor and Mr. Ross brought to the table, and that won them an Oscar last year for The Social Network, being intensified tenfold for what they bring to this film; much like in last year’s masterpiece, the score here is just as big a part of the storytelling as any other variable.

The mystery story is obviously there, with Christopher Plummer, delivering his second great performance of the year which will help him sow up even further that well-deserved Oscar for Beginners, starring as Henrik Vanger, an old millionaire, patriarch of a powerful family that lives far off from the mainland, obsessed with finding out how his adored niece died four decades ago. The body of the niece, Harriet, was never found, and no trace to suggest she’s still alive and well somewhere else were uncovered either, so theories start forming in the mind of the old man, and later in that of Mikael Blomkvist whom he hires to help him out, and who then brings Lisbeth onto the case, theories that point the fingers at the people who were there that day all those years ago, most of them members of the Vanger family tree themselves.

As far as that goes, then yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mystery murder kind of film, and alongside Se7en and Zodiac you could say Mr. Fincher has crafted a masterful trilogy of murder investigation movies, giving you information like crazy and expertly showing the investigations, carefully allowing everything to set into your mind. But when Salander is on screen this film transcends that label, and becomes about the women who fought back against those men that hated them, Lisbeth being their Joan of Ark. The murder stuff is an incredible backdrop to which to set all of this to, but, like I said, this is Lisbeth’s story we care about here. It’s amazing to see an American film made by a studio that pays so much attention to a strong female character, one that’s so in control of her own sexuality no matter how vulnerable she may appear at times.

David Fincher understood all of this, he knew this was her story, he knew Stieg Larsson wrote the books because when he was fifteen he witnessed a brutal gang rape of a woman and never got over the fact that he did not help the girl, Mr. Fincher didn’t forget the fact that the original title for the book is Men Who Hate Women. So in return he fought for who he thought was right for Lisbeth, Ms. Mara, an actresses audiences don’t know and who may not seem desirable enough for many (though she seriously is, but that’s not the discussion here), and he gave her the role of a lifetime, he gave her a big-budget, huge running-time, R-rated movie for her to shine in. And she paid off his trust in her by delivering a performance that will stay with you for quite some time well after the film ends.

This film is perfect, I don’t care what any of its critics may say, it’s just insanely perfect frame by frame. And I can’t wait to watch it a second time, and a third, and a seventh; because, like any other truly great director, David Fincher’s films are ones you should spend quite some time getting into, breathing in every shot, studying them, there’s a reason why he’s famous for asking for close to a hundred takes for many scenes; he wants every little small detail to be just right. As amazing as Rooney Mara is in the role, kudos also have to paid to the rest of her cast members, Mr. Plummer like I said is terrific, and Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson and a slew of other truly tremendous actors give their all to flesh out a number of really memorable characters to support Lisbeth’s story. And then there’s Daniel Craig, who plays the role of Mikael Blomkvist different than Michael Nyqvist did in the original film, something which may be expected considering the guy’s James Bond, but he also plays it perfectly, allowing for a sweetness to come organically towards a girl he starts caring for quite a lot, but knowing to always keep his distance, not to scare her off.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, may seem like a movie about a complex man helping out another man. But in reality it’s the story about a girl, and about avenging the death of another girl, and David Fincher knows that. He’s crafted yet another absolutely perfect film with this one, taking hold of a wildly successful novel that had already spawned a very great film and out-doing them all. Yes, the rape scene shown here is seriously brutal. Yes, you won’t be able to listen to Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ the same way again. Those are all things that are strong to see, brutally shown, but the way Mr. Fincher opts to show them is just a thing of beauty only someone as good as him can achieve, a master storyteller. And then there’s Rooney Mara, about whom I’ve already said quite a bit, and about whom the rest will be for you to discover. Trust me, it’s well worth it.

Grade: A+

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One Response to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

  1. CMrok93 December 28, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

    It’s certainly worth seeing if you missed the original. If you saw it, however, there’s no way of unseeing it, and nothing in the new one to top it. Craig and Mara are great here though and Fincher brings so much more to this film like I was expecting too. Good review.

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