Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

USA  Sweden  Great Britain  Germany  (158 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  David Fincher

Adapted from the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, a wildly popular series of Swedish crime novels that were published posthumously, the first part of the series was initially directed in 2009 by Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev, featuring a mix of digital video, 16 mm, Super 16 mm, all blown up on Super 35 mm, giving the film a variety of looks which helps set the series in motion.  The opening introduction is easily the most intriguing of the Trilogy, as it draws the audience into this smart crime drama where part of the interest is the individuality and unique intelligence in the characters, introducing the punkish computer hacker Lisbeth Salander with a near photographic memory, initially played by Noomi Rapace, and Mikael Blomkvist, originally Michael Nyqkvist, a top notch, award winning investigative journalist working for an issues oriented magazine called Millennium, where he has a longstanding affair with the editor, Lena Endre initially, replaced here by Robin Wright Penn, where a brutal streak of sadism lies underneath the cool veneer of Swedish sophistication, where only on the outside surface does life feel safe, secure, and orderly.  Despite the vastly improved production values and superb score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the writing and editing of this American remake are less impressive, losing some of the intensity and focus, including what was so uniquely original about it, namely the intelligence and strange sexual curiosity between the two leads.  

David Fincher creates a superb opening credit sequence shot to a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, which is a masterful film short in itself seen here:  Karen O, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross: "Immigrant Song ... - YouTube (2:51).  The Swedish title Män Som Hatar Kvinnor translates to Men Who Hate Women, quite appropriate to the story, a decade’s long murder mystery filled with particularly grisly unsolved murders directed against women balanced against an intriguing, off color love story.  The film opens as acclaimed journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is being sentenced to 6 months in prison for libel and is immediately whisked away from his family Christmas dinner to meet secretly with a millionaire business tycoon, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) on a remote island location where Vanger wants him to search for his presumably killed niece, missing for 40 years, insisting upon Blomkvist only after his libel case had been thoroughly investigated by an unusual computer expert, a young punkish Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) who has found no evidence of any wrongdoing, but instead everything suggests a frame.  Of interest, the niece always made Vanger a birthday gift of crushed flowers, and those gifts have continued to be sent from various corners of the earth ever since she went missing.  Vanger believes his is a hateful family, one of whom is likely the murderer with a sadistic interest in continuing the birthday reminders of her absence.  With nothing to lose, Blomkvist resigns from the magazine to begin his investigative work on the island. 

Hard to believe Rooney Mara as the rebellious and punkish Lisbeth Salander in this film is the same spirited girl in the opening conversation in a bar with 19-year old Harvard sophomore Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), the girl whose blatant rejection of his crudely obnoxious manner led to his creation of the computer template for Facebook before the night was done.  Despite Mara’s best efforts, however, she’s no match for the harder edged Noomi Rapace who originated the role.  The American remake sticks closely to the original version except for a few exceptions, like the omission of a sequence of Lisbeth getting beaten up by a street gang, less time spent with Lisbeth’s underworld friends, including her hacker friend named Plague, and changing the focus somewhat, giving a softer edge to Lisbeth in the relationship, as she’s not nearly as aggressively controlling as Rapace, who adds more fire and inner rage to the character, more damaged and more ferocious, feeling much more uniquely revelatory and internally complex in the original.  Mara is following Rapace’s lead with the character, where Rapace’s physique is less feminine, built more like a man, where in the original story her biographic profile was blended into the theme of treachery against targeted women instead of spoon fed to the audience only after the fact at the end in Fincher’s version, as if to elicit sympathy, something at odds with the Lisbeth character who would never allow herself to feel like a victim.     

The secret to the success of this Trilogy is the fierce interior character of Lisbeth herself, an outlandish woman dressed provocatively in full black leather fetish attire, wearing motorcycle boots, facial painting with heavy black eye liner, looking boyish with spikes, multiple tattoos, a Mohawk haircut and piercings, a girl who never smiles or enjoys herself, who uses her brooding silence brilliantly, remaining one of the more compelling characters seen in years.  Her appeal lies in her own approach to herself, her reaction to the dark forces surrounding her, operating with utmost conviction, highly disciplined, fiercely independent, protecting herself with the feral quality of an animal surrounded by savage beasts, yet she remains balanced and in complete control of her life.  In the original, her startling sociopathic personality wins over audiences through flashback sequences to childhood including courtroom sequences that threaten to take control of her life, exposing a lifetime of fighting against physical and emotional abuse, becoming a righteous feminist vigilante, which makes her a sympathetic figure from the outset, where she initiates the initial encounter with Blomkvist by hacking into his computer and leaving him clues, steering him in the right direction, which leads him to her.  Fincher omits these scenes altogether, having them spend much less time together, delaying and prolonging the real tension and interest of the story, the glue that holds it all together, which is this bizarre but fascinating relationship.  Her computer and investigative skills at uncovering secret evidence are unmatched, so he convinces her to work with him in exposing a savage killer of women, where she ends up doing most of the lead work and being his guardian angel, actually saving his life from a reclusive family of demented Nazi’s. 

The dark and at times horrendous story is told with a brisk pace, advanced by clues, impeccable computer searches and interviews, but especially intriguing are negatives of old photographs which Mikael blows up and scans, becoming a movie within the movie, where they uncover unsolved murders, eventually leading them to various sexually gruesome murder sites across the country where something potentially connects to this case.  As they get closer, the inner circle of the Vanger family become more and more suspicious and paranoid, as they all appear to have something to hide.  The actual island estate is filled with architecturally stunning homes that are especially foreboding in the winter ice, with a few former Nazi’s living inside, men who have little respect for human life and will go to any extent to protect what they have.  There’s plenty of suspense and psychological tension in this taut drama, but something has to give, and when it does, it will carry the force of forty years of lies and cover ups, something dark, twisted, and repulsive, yet undetected throughout the entire period of time.  Noomi Rapace, however, is the real discovery of the Trilogy, and nothing in Fincher’s version matches her ferocity, as her hostile yet vulnerable character is shrouded in secrets as well, but she’s actually looking for a way to believe in something better, yet all around her she is held back by deeply disturbed and detestable men who have turned her life into a living hell, isolated, alone, but an aggressive force, even as she sleeps with Blomkvist, a man who senses danger with every move, that only grows more acute as he draws closer.  It’s one of these cool sophisticated crime fiction thrillers that’s gorgeous to look at, that relies on intelligence and a multitude of clues, where a heavy streak of brutal sadism lurks underneath the sexual intrigue between the major players. 

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