Sunday, December 25, 2011

Men (Directors) Who Hate (Don't Really Understand) Women

Welcome back to Hello Mr. Anderson. I have two things I wanted to say to my faithful readers today One: I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and will have a happy New Year. Two: you don't need to spend your well-earned money and see David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Why not? Wasn't this one of my more anticipated film releases, as it had been for thousands of fans of the literary trilogy by Stieg Larsson? Well, I guess you can say that I feel as though I've been spoiled. The Millennium Trilogy of books, consisting of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, have become international bestsellers, and it was back in 2008 that I read the first in the series and understood why. Though one could argue that Larsson was not perhaps the best fiction writer on the planet, his ugly look behind the scenes of Swedish society and his obvious vocal activism against violence against women made him a one of the more unique authors of the modern age. The success of his novels was followed in 2009 by the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Neils Arden Oplev. The film was not only a near-perfect retelling of the novel, but it was also one of the best movies of 2010 when it came to the United States in limited release. It made superstars of Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist in the leading roles, and both have been seen in American cinema thanks to their starring turns in that trilogy. Between the great read and the excellent movie, there was really little reason to think David Fincher could bring anything new to the table in his quickly-made follow up to his overrated-but-still-good The Social Network that could really surprise me. He does, but perhaps not in the way that was best for reintroducing the series to an American audience.

Sure, she's a little odd, but she's a freakin' genius
Michael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is in trouble. The co-owner and also a writer for Millennium Magazine in Stockholm, Sweden, has just been found guilty of libel after being tricked into reporting with falsified evidence, most likely planted by the company he was trying to expose in the first place. Losing his life's savings and scandalized in the press, Blomkvist has no choice but to go into hiding while he tries to figure out what to do next. That is answered quickly, as the estate of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires Blomkvist to delve into a forty-year-old murder mystery. Henrik's great niece Harriet disappeared from the island home of the Vanger clan while just about every member of the family was in attendance. Sure that she could not have simply run away (an accident had rendered traffic to and from the island impossible that day), Henrik wants Blomkvist to dig deep and discover which of his unsavory brood is responsible for her murder. In return, he will provide evidence proving that the company Blomkvist had been investigating was indeed corrupt. As Blomkvist delves into the history of the Vanger family however, he realizes that he needs help. And so he is introduced to a fierce, strong-willed and brilliant researcher named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara)...

As James Bond triggers the trap... oh, right...
Obviously, the biggest challenge for this film was to take a character so iconic as Lisbeth Salander (and in such a short period of time, too) and match her with a performer worthy of that level. Don't be surprised if you're not familiar with Rooney Mara, whose biggest roles to date have been in 2009's Youth in Revolt, and 2010's Nightmare on Elm Street reboot and The Social Network. Don't remember her, or don't recognize her in the photos here of Lisbeth? That's because Rooney Mara looks in real life like she's about twelve years old; thirteen at most. Besides the major aesthetic transformation turning Mara into the dark, tattooed super-heroine, Mara had to get to an emotional understanding of Lisbeth in order to convincingly BE her, and the actress does a fantastic job in pulling it off. It's impossible to describe exactly what she does in becoming this character, but when Lisbeth Salander walks into a room, all eyes are immediately drawn to her presence. This allows Mara to steal just about every scene in which she appears. She's certainly deserving of the Golden Globe nomination she just received, though time will tell whether she'll be able to completely avoid comparisons to Noomi Rapace's 2009 Salander.

There it is, folks
Besides Mara's casting, Finch's version of the film does do a few good things right. The rest of the cast were mostly well-picked, most notably Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard as the major players in the Vanger family. Robin Wright also appears briefly as Erika Berger, Millennium's co-owner and Blomkvist's main love interest. The problem is that most of these minor characters get little face time outside of introduction scenes. If they're important, they'll come back. If not, well... Craig himself seems slightly out of sync as Blomkvist, as while the character's serious investigative nature is obviously playing to Craig's strengths as a performer, his charisma is not to the level I would have liked for the role he played. Fincher also tries his hardest to get in every last major detail from the novels, and with only minor trimming he churns out a still-long 158 minute film that doesn't lack for the information you need to understand exactly what is happening. The clues are parceled out evenly, and even if you have memorized the book cover to cover there are a few surprises waiting to make your acquaintance. And don't worry, people; I'm not forgetting the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch. To say it's awe-inspiring would be an insult to sunsets and rainbows, but it's a damned great collection of music that perfectly captures the mood of the story.

Actually, Mara had to change for everything else she's done; in GWTDT, she just plays herself
It's those few right things that make the rest of the film's missteps all the more painful. The limited CGI use is extremely fake-looking, and Fincher's continued insistence on its use can easily be described as a gross irresponsibility on his part. But the worst mistake the film makes is the depiction of the developing relationship between Salander and Blomkvist. I remember reading the book and thinking that when these two characters got together, great things happen. That was most of the book's second half, and it's a feat Stieg Larsson never really recaptured in the subsequent novels. Unfortunately, Fincher seems to have missed that idea, as the film does its best to keep these two characters apart, only bringing them together for truly kinky sex scenes. And of course, the lack of character interaction between the two means that said sexual relations have no basis in reality. It's almost as if it was a vehicle designed to film Mara topless as much as possible. There are also some character inaccuracies, most notably one (SPOILER!) in which Salander asks Blomkvist's permission to kill the bad guy, an act the literary character would never abide. Even when Salander warmed up to Blomkvist, she would never ask for permission from ANYONE to do whatever she thought was necessary. (SPOILER END). The film's end is also over-long, as what should have taken no more than five minutes is instead spread out over the course of about three times that many. It's a poor finale to a relatively exciting main story, and when the final credits roll you'll be shaking your head and asking what happened.

And that's where the crazy girl makes the incision...
It's not that I think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a bad movie. I don't; It's a perfectly okay movie, with the slick visuals that Fincher is known for and an excellent acting lead in Rooney Mara. There however exist about a dozen errors between her and what could have been an excellent film. It's even a relatively faithful adaptation, right down to the visceral sexual assault scenes, which I wasn't sure I could expect from this director. Unfortunately, there's just too much wrong for me to tell you that this is a "must-see" film, when the "must-see" adaptation of this film was available to you just last year. Considering that the original Swedish film is available on Netflix as we speak, you'd be much better off paying 8 bucks a month to see that and others than paying four bucks more to see the newer interpretation on the big screen. Of course, the story isn't the only reason I've heard people are interested in seeing this title. Yes, I'll say again that the soundtrack is amazing. So buy or download the soundtrack, skip the film, and I promise you; you're not missing much.


Jennie said...

This movie completely bummed me out. Rooney Mara just played 90's Angelina Jolie. Hackers and Gone in Sixty Seconds, anyone?

Mr. Anderson said...

Maybe she is, but that raises an interesting question: could Rooney Mara in time become the new Angelina Jolie?