Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Following only two years after the original, Swedish, adaptation of the book and it's ensuing wake of critical acclaim, this 2011 English-language version of Larsson's book had a lot to live up to.

The film follows a recently disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) who is hired by a wealthy businessman to solve the 40 year old case of his niece’s murder, in exchange for information that will help him get his credibility back. Eventually, he enlists the help of a quite unconventional research assistant in the form of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the titular Girl.

Coming in at about two and a half hours, the film is quite a heavy experience, both in its manner of storytelling and in the way of content. There's an unusual structure at play here, with the first two acts (I'd say the film is split into 5 acts rather than three) having two almost completely separate stories, one of which is forgotten about and only tangentially referred to after the two main characters meet up. This serves as brilliant exposition though, if a bit long. You get a real insight into the multiple sides that make up Lisbeth: the strong and independent, take-no-prisoners badass, the lonely soul and the fragile and damaged young woman who stumbles from one f*cked-up situation to another. I've gotta say, Salander is one of the best written and portrayed characters I've seen in recent years in a big blockbuster movie like this.

I'm particularly happy with the casting of the two protagonists. Craig works well as Mikael Blomkvist, giving the role the much needed tact and a portrayal of genuine concern for the case and those around him. He's like a polite version of Kenneth Brannagh's Wallander (another Swedish-written detective played by a Brit). From what I've read, other people including Brad Pitt and George Clooney were considered for the role, but I think the former hit too close to another David Fincher film about a detective investigating a gruesome murder case with Brad Pitt in the lead (Se7en), and the latter wouldn't really fit in my opinion (plus, Lisbeth's boss looks exactly like a provincial Clooney). But the real masterstroke in casting is with Mara as Salander. Not exactly an unknown, Mara hasn't had many starring roles in larger productions, but has worked with Fincher in the past on The Social Network, and was probably a risky move considering some of the names that were banded around for the role (including Natalie Portman, who despite my adoration of would not have worked nearly as well, alongside Anne Hathaway, Ellen Page, Emma Watson and Scarlett Johansson). Mara delivers a near perfect performance though, and her willingness to commit everything, appearance-wise, to the role is endearing.

As for the film itself, it's beautifully executed, and is very much a David Fincher film. I can't nail down exactly what it is, maybe it's the humble grey, white and blue tones throughout, but the film just feels very Scandinavian. The atmosphere gives everything that clean, stoic manner with hints that just below the surface things aren't as well behaved as they appear. When you do see the underside, it's unforgiving. There are two scenes in particular with Salander and her government-appointed guardian that really cut close to the bone. The first of which triggered in me, for the first time in a long while, the response that I had to remind myself that they're just actors and it's not real. It's just a horrific scene. When we return to the situation though, there is somewhat of a shift in power, and although the same sort of terrible things happen again, a sense of justice makes it much more bearable. To show a similar situation twice and evoke such different reactions is a hallmark of good direction.

Just a final word on the styling of the film. Whoever did the costume design (and hair/make-up and all that jazz) for Salander, did a stellar job. She looks fantastic and her appearance fits the character phenomenally well. it would have been easy to just go the "goth it all up" route, but there's a much more nuanced and subtle approach taken here.

So in conclusion, it's a wonderful film. A little bit emotionally draining at times, so I wouldn't watch it after a particularly exhausting day, but brilliantly executed and beautifully constructed. David Fincher solidifies himself as one of my favourite directors even more with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

TL;DR: Film good. Go watch.

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