A film review by Craig J. Koban December 28, 2011
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
2011, R, 158 mins.
2011, R, 158 mins.
Lisbeth Salander: Rooney Mara /
Mikael Blomkvist: Daniel
Henrik Vanger: Christopher
Martin Vanger: Stellan
Erika Berger: Robin
Anita Vanger: Joely Richardson
original 2009 Swedish THE
GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO - directed by Niels Arden Oplev and
based on the novel by the late author and journalist Stieg Larsson – was
one of the most effective and memorable crime noir thrillers of its year.
It was evocatively stylish, impeccably acted, contained a
fascinating murder mystery, and, most crucially, it introduced
filmgoers to the unforgettable Lisbeth Salander, who was indeed a girl
that did have a dragon tattoo. As
played in a performance of animalistic ferocity, raw nerve, and closely
internalized vulnerability by the great Swedish-Icelandic actress Noomi
Rapace, Salander deserved ranking as one of the most intriguing female
protagonists in recent film history.
was young, bisexual, deceptively pretty under all of her heavy makeup and
multiple facial piercings, and was disturbingly anti-social to the core.
She was an emotional predator at times and exhibited an untamed
hostility towards those she did not like.
Yet, Lisbeth's façade as a grungy Goth chick that looked like she
belonged in many a biker bar hid her true genius: she had an extraordinary
ability to hack computers and was a maestro of research and deductive
logic. With her street wise
toughness, cold and penetrating stare, willingness to enact vigilante
justice on those that wronged her, and the social horrors that she had to
endure, it’s not wonder why Lisbeth struck a chord with audience
members. As far as female
characters go, she was about as empowered as they get.
as much reverence as I had for the 2009 Swedish film, a lavish budgeted
Hollywood remake seemed inevitable. In
place of Oplev is Oscar nominated director David Fincher teamed with
Oscar nominated screenwriter Steven Zaillian to re-tackle Larsson’s
source material for North American consumption.
The new DRAGON TATTOO follows most of the storyline of the ’09
import, but where it really differs is in its look and cost (Fincher’s
version has a much bigger bankroll behind it, not to mention that Fincher
himself, as a cinematic visualist, is clearly Oplev’s superior).
Both films are long, although Fincher’s is longer by about ten
minutes. Both involve a decades-old family murder mystery that may or
may not have involved one of the members acting as a perpetrator.
And, true to the first, Fincher’s incarnation hones in on the
integral relationship between the New Age research methods of Salander and
the more old school investigative approach of Mikael Blomkvist.
Thankfully, Fincher has not toned down the inherent nihilism,
depravity, and overall darkness of the original.
This DRAGON TATTOO-redux is just as – if not more – bleak as the original.
the essentials of the storyline remain largely unchecked: We are
introduced early on to disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel
Craig) that, after being rocked by professional scandal, is offered a job
that involves him going to a Northern Swedish island to meet with a
retired millionaire named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer).
Vanger’s job proposal involves Mikael investigating the
disappearance of his 16-year-old grand-niece, who he feels may have been
murdered, seeing as her body has never been found and that ample evidence
supports that she had no reason to disappear on her own.
As far as suspects go, Vanger seems strong in his belief that a
member of his family is to blame, some of whom include former Nazis.
If Mikael agrees to the job then he will be both monetarily
rewarded quite handsomely and assisted by Vanger in perusing those that have
previously discredited him.
agrees to the task, but soon begins to realize that he may be in a bit
over his head to tackle the case solo.
He manages to find himself teamed up with a misfit and the relentlessly
hostile tempered Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) who proves to be Mikael’s
clear superior when it comes to anything computer related.
has ample reasons for her anti-social behavior, especially when it comes
to the venomous treatment she gets from her state appointed guardian
(played with repellent ooze by Yorik van Wageningen), who puts her through social
horrors that no woman should experience.
Nonetheless, Lisbeth and Mikael manage to make a seemingly
odd, but effective pair of sleuths, which allows them to uncover a web of
clues and shocking revelations that changes the whole outlook of the case.
course, Lisbeth remains the endlessly compelling focal point of the film,
especially when it comes to the unspeakable ways she is treated by some in
the narrative. Fincher and
Zaillian wisely understand that this is a character steeped in radical,
almost militant female empowerment as she personally traverses from one
hellishly grotesque predicament to another.
Lisbeth’s relationship to the older Mikael is also emphasized
over just about everything else in the film, which also is the wise
choice: they both go from horribly mismatched colleagues to a well-oiled
investigative team and then rather awkwardly to lovers.
Like the Swedish TATTOO films, the essence of whether Lisbeth and
Mikael’s relationship is based out of love or not is left curiously
abstract. Perhaps they just
simply cling to one another at a troubling time when no one else would.
have written to the point of ad nauseam on how Noomi Rapace seemed utterly
irreplaceable as Lisbeth, an assertion that I still maintain.
This places almost insurmountable pressures of the new Lisbeth,
Rooney Mara, who certainly is a gifted young actress (who could forget her
briefly stealing THE SOCIAL NETWORK
away from everyone in its sly opening sequence).
Mara as Lisbeth certainly has a softer façade and is less
intimidating as a presence as Rapace, who was borderline frightening at
times. Yet, Mara is so
thanklessly up to the task of fully immersing herself within the totality of
Lisbeth’s wounded psyche, her guarded mistrust of everyone, her
internalized rage that can erupt at any moment, and her almost
irrepressibly cold and untamed demeanor.
Her Lisbeth is just as tormented, haunted, and damaged as Rapace's.
Mara’s work definitely did not make me forget about Rapace’s
superlative turn, but she is nonetheless just as fearlessly primal with
her performance, which is sure to be Oscar nominated.
cast itself around Mara is splendidly assembled.
Plummer as Vanger is quietly commanding; Stellan Skarsgard does
miracles with a decidedly tricky role; and Robin Wright is solid in her few
scenes as Mikael’s on-again, off-again lover and journalistic colleague.
One casting misstep, however, that the film makes is with Mikael
himself. Michael Nyqvist
played the role in the original and had a sort of everyman ordinariness
about him, which made him that much more of an effective
out-of-his-element foil to Lisbeth. By
comparison, this new version casts the granite bodied, self-assuredly
charismatic, and dapper Daniel Craig, who at times plays Blomkvist with
the composure and determination of 007.
Nyqvist seemed more fragile, more easily susceptible to
endangerment, and less able to bail himself out without assistance.
Craig’s very stature works against the character.
That, and he seems to be the only actor that is not trying to pull
off a Swedish dialect in any way shape or form. All of the other actors do so gamely, but Craig’s Mikael
sounds a bit too British to be taken seriously and convincingly as a
film has other rough patches as well, most specifically in the area of its
conclusion: the film seems to take literally forever to find an acceptable
manner of closure. After the
central mystery has been dealt with and solved, the plot stumbles around for
another 20-plus minutes, almost to the point where we feel we are watching
the opening sections of its sequel. After
the film hits its zenith with the confrontation between the heroes and the
murderer, it all but loses momentum.
Then there is the film’s black and white title sequence (created
by Blur Studio and featuring Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”), which
is a deviously artful and visually gorgeous montage of abstract shapes and
forms. As undeniably cool as
it is to look at, the sequence is kind of distractingly ostentatious:
it’s like a high tech and glossy music video interlude that punctures an
otherwise somber and austere narrative.
Fincher’s film is endlessly compelling to simply look at and
engage in: he and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth do a virtuoso job of
evoking the chillingly subdued color palette of the original film version.
This new TATTOO film is certainly a masterfully executed technical
achievement above and beyond its Swedish predecessor.
Fincher has also miraculously maintained the harsh adult content of
the original without pulling any punches whatsoever. This new TATTOO
film is arguably just as graphic and disturbing to sit through when it
comes to its sadism at times (how both films managed to secure R-ratings
is astounding). Yet, for as
technically exemplary as Fincher’s remake is, it still is not as
faultless as its ’09 antecedent. This
new GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is obsessively fascinating for its
mystery and character dynamics and Fincher certainly has proved that he is
endlessly competent enough to make this film iteration stand apart on its
own while being faithful to the tone and mood of the original.
If forced to pick the superior version, though, my gut instinct is
telling me to stick with Oplev’s original.
If viewers out there have no desire to seek it out, then this one
will do you just fine.