' ' Cinema Romantico: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just had a bullet graze his forehead. He retreats back to his temporary home. He is bleeding fairly profusely. Our title character, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), knows how to handle this situation. She will stitch up the wound with a bit of dental floss. Mikael, as would likely be natural, vociferously objects. But Lisbeth doesn't have time for his whining objections. She knows what's best, she knows the best way to do it and whether he likes it or not that's how this is happening. And it does. She stitches him up matter-of-factly with dental floss. As this scene unfolded I thought of David Fincher, director of the film, the second (first American) adaptation of Stieg Larsson's mightily successful novels. Fincher never comes across as someone with time for people's whining objections. I recently read an interview where the subject of his massive number of takes for the infamous opening sequence of "The Social Network" was addressed and even if he had not openly stated he was "exhausted" with that question, and he did, you could have gleaned that exhaustion from the answer, and from the whole interview, really. I totally could see that version of Fincher irritatedly stitching up a bullet graze with dental floss. "I know what I'm doing. So shut up and let me do it." Which is to say, has he found his muse in Rooney Mara? Or, more to the point, has he found his muse in Lisbeth Salander? If so, could he just ditch the storylines of the books and go off and explore on his own with her?

This Lisbeth, this Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, from the moment she turns up in the film's first moments with a dramatic mohawk and loudly, graphically wipes her nose (Social graces? Eh, no) on the elevator, is a cinematic character quite unlike any other I can recall having encountered. She speaks in a frightful monotone and replies to every query so quickly it's as if she had already gleaned her answer before the person started asking. She is employed by a security company as a "researcher" which constitutes gathering information on persons who typically go to extravagant lengths to prevent revealing any information. And she's damn good, too. One scene that's essentially a throwaway involves her re-absconding her backpack after a thief absconds with it. It is quick, vicious, expert, and a little funny in the way she hustles back up at the end to catch the train. (A barbaric Sheena Easton?)

She is also a ward of the state and this is because, well, in her own word, she's "insane." Her legal guardian has suffered a stroke and so she goes to visit the lawyer that assumes his estate to explain her situation, what she does and why she needs money. In this first encounter something absolutely awful and graphic takes place but something far more suggesting takes place right before the more "sensational" subject matter. The lawyer gets up from his chair and comes around to the front of the desk, to within a few inches of Lisbeth, and she recoils and turns away (to the right - she's always turning to her right), uncomfortable. You can sense her reacting this way in any social situation with just about anyone. She prefers the company of her laptop, the occasional McDonald's Happy Meal and side trips to the techno club for a little, shall we say, R & R. Her backstory is virtually non-existent, a crucial bit revealed only extremely late in the proceedings, and this is right on because this Lisbeth would be closed off, she would not want me, you, anyone in the movie, anyone outside the movie, etc, to know anything private. She'll tell you when she's good and ready. She's a character defined through her actions, which are often so ruthless one could label them "exploitive." Or is she merely operating by a code that is as honorable as it is sadistic? Or has she simply gone beyond the realm of any so-called "code"? Rooney Mara never asks for empathy, doesn't want empathy, and would spit in your face if you offered it anyway since she knows (probably better than you do) that she doesn't deserve it. She wears a ripped up tee shirt, after all, that says "Fuck You You Fucking Fuck." That's her life code. This character has gone well past any kind of trite nonsense like empathy, people. Empathy is for J.Lo rom coms. You're in Lisbeth Land now, a land that's much more complex even though Lisbeth seems to treat much of it as being only black or white.    

Astute readers - particularly fans of the "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" books - may have noticed I have not to this point discussed the plot itself much at all. Yeah, there's a reason. The plot details Craig's Mikael, a just disgraced magazine journalist, being hired by retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to look into a decades-old mystery involving the murder of his niece Harriet. It seems entirely possible that one of Henrik's many odd relatives, all of whom restrain from speaking to at least one other family member, may have been responsible. So Mikael takes the case which automatically leads to him pinning dozens and dozens of photos and old newspaper articles to the wall and looking at them thoughtfully and eventually turning to the woman who did research on him - Lisbeth Salander - for further assistance, and she cheerfully (in her own way) agrees when pitched the idea of going after a woman killer.

"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" then goes about pairing the lonesome tale of god-awful woe of Lisbeth with the long-gone tragic tale of Harriet. Whoops! My bad! That's what the movie seemed like it was going to do, and that had the potential to be fascinating. Instead it reverts to a by-the-numbers investigation with montages and people snooping around houses they aren't supposed to be in and a Talking Killer Scene (coinage: Roger Ebert) where the Talking Killer actually, honestly, literally says the line "We're not so different, you and I" (Come on, Steve Zaillan! You can't write a better line than that?!) and car chases and explosions and a third act "twist" (kind of) that probably was built to in the book (which I haven't read) but just sort of swoops in out of nowhere in this film.

As director, Fincher tries to gussy all this up with fierce editing that recalls his own "Zodiac" on amphetamines and perhaps re-imagined as a more pulpy piece. Craig does decent work, too, but throughout it all, even when she's off screen and you're hoping and praying she quickly returns to the screen, Rooney Mara stands above the rest.

I loved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, not so much "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." Lisbeth Salander deserves so much better than re-heated murder mystery leftovers. If I had my druthers, Ms. Mara would win an Oscar. And if you don't agree with that sentiment then pardon me very much but fuck you fucking fuck.


Anonymous said...

It’s certainly worth seeing if you missed the original. If you saw it, however, there’s no way of unseeing it, and nothing in the new one to top it. Craig and Mara are great here though and Fincher brings so much more to this film like I was expecting too. Good review.

Nick Prigge said...

You know, I'm torn. This will likely sound ridiculous but whenever I fall really hard for a particular film that's a remake or based on a book I always find myself staying away from the original material at the risk of tainting how attached I am to the film.

That's absurd. I know. I can't help it.

Anonymous said...

These 'Dragon Tattoo' movies are so not my cup of tea... but that said, I generally like Fincher's work so I might rent it. Sounds like Rooney Mara gave the performance of her life (well so far).

Nick Prigge said...

It's very uneven so unless you can get into a movie solely for the performance, I'd say it's worth it to wait and watch at home. Then you can take a bathroom break if necessary. I mean, it's almost 3 hours long!

Anonymous said...

I thought Mara was great too! And seriously the Swedish adaptations were not that great, they're slow (as is Fincher's version) and I never got the fuzz. I found this really exciting, and what made it better is exceedin expectations.

I just didn't get the accents. I mean ... Craig gets to do his English twang but everyone else struggels with a pseudo-Scandinavian weirdness. I thought it was strange but decided it to let it go as if I'd stuck to my annoyance it would've ruined the film for me.

Nick Prigge said...

I remember you commenting on those varying accents in your review. Maybe I was lucky to be an American in this situation. Like you say, you can tell Daniel Craig is just talking like Daniel Craig but I definitely don't know the nuances of Scandinavian language enough to really have had any idea what anyone else was doing.

So someday I'll take a trip to Sweden and then be confused when everyone isn't talking like Rooney Mara.

Derek Armstrong said...

To me, the plot itself is the weak point of the whole Millennium Trilogy, and it only gets weaker from here. (Speaking of Fincher the whiner, I understand he is now whining about having to make the next two movies, which I believe he agreed to. Someone told me this, don't yell at me if I'm wrong.) This particular story, the best one, is basically just Cold Case: Sweden. Neither film version of this story (I haven't read the books) managed to make me feel much urgency about Harriet Vagner. Oh well. And the Swedish films kind of resemble television cop procedurals. At least this one has an undeniable dose of Fincher Style.

My basic impression of this film was that I could not imagine Fincher doing a single thing differently (except in the largely unnecessary "after the third act" portion), yet that still did not translate to me loving the film. Which tells me my issues are built into the source material -- a strange thing to say about books that the entire world has decided are some of the best fiction of the last ten years.

Nick Prigge said...

I would completely agree that my main issues with the film were with its primary plot. The things I loved were all the things AROUND the plot. It's a real shame the author didn't realize how interesting a character he created. There was real exploration that could have been done there.