Sunday, 22 April 2012

Girl, You'll be a Woman, Soon: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

Mild Spoilers Ahead

So, I was finally able to catch up with David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Overall, I enjoyed the film, and thought screenwriter Steven Zaillian did a an excellent job of condensing the first novel in the late Steig Larsson's "Millenium" trilogy. I liked the novel but found it was really dense with exposition and characters. Zaillian doesn't waste too much time setting up Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as a disgraced journallist and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) as a, to put it mildy, socially awkward computer hacker. The screenplay also acknowledges how difficult it is to to keep track of the Vanger family tree.

I loved the casting of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. I think it's very funny that Mara has essentially switched roles with Jesse Eisenberg. In The Social Network, she was Erica Albright, the innocent, well adjusted girlfriend to Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg, the socially retarded computer genius. In this film, while she's giving a very different performance than Eisenberg's, it's now her turn to play the socially retarded, emotionally aloof computer genius.  It's a remarkable transformation from the girl next door she played in The Social Network.

In a role that could be regarded as this generation's Scarlett O'Hara, Mara creates a woman both vulnerable yet capable of vicious cruelty, as when she is raped by he new guardian Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wagenheim). It's a crucial turning point for the character and our impression of her. Even though Bjurman is a vile man, I couldn't help but be frightened by her when she takes her revenge.She never loses our sympathy though....or our interest. Lisbeth is the best kind of cypher, one which we don't know everything about but are given enough to fascinate us.

In a movie like this, you really need a rock, a character who can guide you through the dark, lurid elements of the story. Daniel Craig. In a movie with Lisbeth as a main character and a family with former nazis and a serial killer, you need someone at least moderately well adjusted to cling to. People seem dismiss movie-stardom nowadays but I think Blomkvist may be a role that, in a Hollywood film at least, needs a familar and powerful presence. Craig fits that mold but like Humphrey Bogart, he has a kind of world weariness that makes him believably human. It's these qualities that I think made Craig a great James Bond and make him an asset here.

While Fincher's films are very character driven, the characters' development over the films are usually interwined with some kind of plot device: the grisly murders in Se7en, the "game" in The Game, and the search for the Zodiac killer in Zodiac.  Like Zodiac, which I think is Fincher's masterpiece, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is about the process of investigation and also the obession a unsolved case can have on the human soul. Blomkvist hears from an elderly policeman that every officer has his "Rebekah Case," named after a policeman who never solved a murder of a girl named Rebekah. This story brings to mind the police officers and journalists in Zodiac. But it's Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), still looking for neice Harriet after 40 years, who shows us a life consumed with trying to find an answer.  Unlike Zodiac, this film does have an answer and an eventual emotional catharsis for Vanger- and it's probably the most emotional resonant moment in the whole movie.

I think the big issue in this movie is that the eventual reveal of the serial killer and how it relates to Harriet's disapperance feels like just another story beat. It's an intense sequence, don't get me wrong, but we never get a sense of its implications or how it affects Henrik. I think we also could have gotten a better sense of the backstory of the killer, why he does what he does, and his relationship to Harriet. I think all this came across better in the novel.

Fincher's direction, as always, is precise, controlled, and methodical, well suited to a story all about the details of an investigation- but I'm wondering if Fincher's direction is almost too controlled. Fincher clearly knows how he wants to make this movie but I don't know if he's taking any risks in his direction. I wonder what an up and comer, trying to make his or her mark, would have done with this material. Still, I don't want to undersell how exceptionally well directed this film is- and in Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, Fincher has found a really exciting screen couple.      

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