December 27, 2011

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Remakes and the like have certainly become a touchy subject of the past, I guess, decade. The idea and practice of remakes and other adaptations have been around for as long as there have been movies. Heck, The Wizard of Oz, the much beloved film, was not the first iteration of the story. Still, it seems that in this interconnected information age where anyone with internet access can have a voice (me included) that outcry regarding such things has reached a fevered pitch. Sure, not all remakes/sequels/prequels/adaptations are done with artistic integrity in mind, there are those that seek to bring a genuine artistic expression to the material. Such is the case here with David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's book.

When it became known that there was going to be an American version of the hit Swedish film, I admit that I was a little apprehensive. Even though I am generally all right with the concept of new versions, when it hits something that I have strong feelings or, well, I can be a bit edgy. It was a similar case when Let the Right One In was remade as Let Me In. I have seen both films and think both are great, they each bring something different to the table. Such is the case here. Both adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are great, while they share pretty much the same plot elements, the execution is quite different.

Before I go any further, let me be very clear in saying that I love the original Swedish film. Hell, I love the whole trilogy. Of the Swedish film I wrote: "The movie ran two and a half hours but it goes by so fast you scarcely notice. It is fascinating as it is not a terribly fast paced film. There are explosions of shocking violence and sexual abuse (which never falls into exploitation territory) that effectively punctuate the mystery they are investigating and highlighting our characters personal damages. It is all gorgeously shot and exquisitely paced. This will hold your attention until the final frame."

This all leads me to the new take on the tale. Simply put it is amazing. Pretty much all of the praises I said about the prior film apply to this one as well, but in a different way. When it comes to the material, David Fincher would seem to be the perfect director for it. There is something about the technical skill and his sense for the film frame, pacing, and getting just the right performance that matches up so well with the murder mystery aspects as well as the more personal journeys taken by our main characters. Also, writer Steve Zaillian, who, coincidentally, has not seen the original filmed adaptation, has done a fine job of tweaking the focus and changing some of the plot points into something perhaps more cinematic, not to mention a different angle from which to see the characters.

It is amazing how much affection I have for the film considering how familiar the plot is, it is again credit to the execution of the story that it can seem fresh and involving. Seriously, the story is essentially nothing more than a cold case involving the murder of a teenager some twenty years earlier. It is nothing particularly special and could probably be condensed into an hour long episode of any given procedural, like Law and Order.

As the story opens we are introduced to Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig), a writer and editor for a liberal magazine. He has just lost a court case over a story he wrote concerning a powerful businessman. Such are the problems when you get misleading information. Seeing as he needs to spend some time away from the magazine to cool things off, he is offered a job by the reclusive former head of Vanger Industries, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). The job is thus, investigate the murder of his niece while under the guise of writing a biography. The suspects? Oh, just the rest of his family. That sets up the main thread that holds everything together.

The real story here is that of outsider researcher Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). She is introduced early as a security firm's top researcher, despite her being different "in every way." She actually did a full a ground work up on Blomqvist prior to Vanger hiring him. While the murder mystery provides the forward motion and a reason for these characters to exist, it is Lisbeth Salander that makes this movie what it is. She is a fascinating character, bold, strong, reserved, vulnerable, damaged, all of these words accurately describe her. She is a character who will only let you know her on her terms.

Now, I cannot say I was happy with the casting when I first heard about it. Frankly, I could not see how anyone would be able to follow up Noomi Rapace's electrifying performance in the Swedish film. The biggest thing I knew Mara from was as Nancy in the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, where she spent most of the time mumbling. I was happy to be prove wrong. Rooney Mara does a fantastic job bringing Lisbeth to life, not a copy of Rapace's performance, she brings a different quality. Where Rapace was stone faced and emotionally, Mara is a bit nearer the surface. Do not get me wrong, she is still distant and stoney, but the damage is nearer the surface. It is something you see in her face, her eyes, her body language. It is a very good performance, one I did not expect.

I don't really think it is fair to compare the two adaptations, for as much as I love the first take, there are a lot of things that are similar and just as many that are different. The great thing is that they both stand up as their own creations. They both feature strong female leads, neither film sugarcoats its unsavory elements, and each has a unique way of approaching the story. In some ways I do favor this new take, primarily because of Fincher's eye and the wonderful editing, bringing the various threads together.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is sure to divide audiences. It won me over. Of course, it took me until after the bizarre techno/black oil James Bond-esque credits sequence, which was strangely entertaining but felt out of place. Of course, the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score is pretty solid.

Now, here's hoping they make the other two movies...

Highly Recommended.

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