Thursday, 26 January 2012

Film Review: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011)

The film’s tagline reads "What is hidden in snow, comes forth in the thaw." Which is what this rendition of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo brings to the big screen. This English-language thriller film directed by David Fincher, adapted by Steven Zaillian, based on the Swedish novel by Stieg Larsson. The film follows a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist and his pierced, tattooed, punk computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander as they investigate the disappearance of a wealthy patriarch's niece from 40 years ago. As they work together in the investigation, Blomkvist and Salander uncover immense corruption beyond anything they have ever imagined.

The success of Stieg Larsson's novel created Hollywood interest in adapting the book, as became apparent in 2009, when Lynton and Pascal pursued the idea of developing an "American" version unrelated to the film adaptation released that year. By December, two major developments occurred for the project: Steven Zaillian, who had recently completed the script for Moneyball (2011), became the screenwriter, while producer Scott Rudin finalized a partnership allocating full copyrights to Sony. Zaillian, who was unfamiliar with the novel, got a copy from Rudin. After reading the book, the screenwriter did no research on the subject. Fincher, who was requested with partner Cean Chaffin by Sony executives to read the novel, was astounded by the series' size and success. Because Zaillian was already cultivating the screenplay, the director avoided interfering. After a conversation, Fincher was comfortable "they were headed in the same direction." Zaillian discussed many of the themes in Larsson's Millennium series with Fincher, taking the pair deeper into the novel's darker subjects, such as the psychological dissimilarities between rapists and murderers. Fincher was familiar with the concept, from projects such as Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007). Zaillian commented, "A rapist, or at least our rapist, is about exercising his power over somebody. A serial killer is about destruction; they get off on destroying something. It's not about having power over something, it's about eliminating it. What thrills them is slightly different." The duo wanted to expose the novels' pivotal themes, particularly misogyny. Instead of the typical three-act structure, they reluctantly chose a five act structure, which Fincher pointed out is "very similar to a lot of TV cop dramas." The writing process consumed approximately six months, including three months creating notes and analyzing the novel. Zaillian noted that as time progressed, the writing accelerated. "As soon as you start making decisions," he explained, "you start cutting off all of the other possibilities of things that could happen. So with every decision that you make you are removing a whole bunch of other possibilities of where that story can go or what that character can do." Given the book's sizable length, Zaillian deleted elements to match Fincher's desired running time. Even so, Zaillan took significant departures from the book.

The film stars Daniel Craig, as Mikael Blomkvist, Rooney Mara, as Lisbeth Salander, Christopher Plummer, as Henrik Vanger, Stellan Skarsgård, as Martin Vanger, Robin Wright, as Erika Berger, Joely Richardson, as Anita Vanger, Steven Berkoff, as Dirch Frode, Goran Višnjić, as Dragan Armansky, and Yorick van Wageningen as Nils Bjurman. The cast gave one of the best, if not the best, performances of their careers. But, it was the film’s two leads that captured my attention. Craig was able to take his famous James Bond persona and was able to put a unique spin on it with his role as Blomkvist. Which did include adding bit of weight and bringing an espionage-esque feel to the investigations. But the true praise goes to none other than the girl with the dragon tattoo herself – Rooney Mara. Who gave a stellar performance as the famous hacker. She was the real star of the entire show, without a doubt. She was mesmerizing in the role. I could not keep my eyes off of her. She brought a multifaceted portrayal as the lean, fierce Salander that drew me in when I first read the book. She made Lisbeth Salander her own as Noomi Rapace did in the Swedish films. Overall, I pray that she gets, at least, an Oscar nomination. Because it’s just that good.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a brutal, relentlessly grimy shocker with taut performances, slick shocks, and an enthralling and haunting climax and finale. The film's ace in the hole is the personal appeal generated by Craig as the mature, cerebral journalist and Mara as the young, headstrong hacker. Not that the contrast is inspired or believable in itself. What gets to you is the prowess of the co-stars as they fill out sketchy character profiles. But the film truly belongs to Mara and her unrelenting, carefully detailed portrayal of the troubled young woman who learns not to give up a fight. It is a procedural thriller for the information age that spins your head in a new way, luring you into a vortex and then deeper still. Yet it's his very lack of pretense, coupled with a determination to get the facts down with maximum economy and objectivity, that gives the film its hard, bright integrity. As a crime saga and a contemporary piece, it works just fine. As an allegory of life in the computer age, it blew my mind. It’s an almost unerringly accurate evocation of modern life, not just Sweden. Forget the distorted emphasis on the socialist society and the icy backdrop that the novels indulge in; this is the city as it was experienced by most people who lived and worked there. It is meticulously crafted – Jeff Cronenweth's state-of-the-art digital cinematography has a richness indistinguishable from film – and it runs almost two hours and 40 minutes. Still, the movie holds you in its grip from start to finish. Fincher boldly (and some may think perversely) withholds the emotional and forensic payoff we're conditioned to expect from a big studio movie. By far, the best film of 2011!

Simon says The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo receives:

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