Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (USA) Review

This was a movie that fell into the category of "do not want!" by many people. After all, it is an adaptation of the English language altered version of the Swedish book, which already has its own movie treatment, which is pretty successful in its own right. This being the first of a three part book series by the late Stieg Larsson, translated by Steven T. Murray (under Reg Keeland). The original Swedish title of the book is Män som hatar kvinnor or translated: Men Who Hate Women. Yeah, doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

To tell the truth, if not for the choice in director or the inspired casting, this would be no more than a typical cash grab by Hollywood to take a winning formula and make it their own. I've never been one to like remakes when they are not warranted. That said, even though this movie has already been done well enough, I feel that there is enough done differently and sometimes more eloquently with this version to merit this version along side the 2009 Swedish version. I have another admission to make. I have not read any of the books, even though I have been told that they are very good reading. I will continue to make my way backward to the book with the first story, as I have seen this USA version first, but have since seen the Swedish version. I did not do this on purpose, but it makes for an interesting take on adaptations and is like doing a bit of reverse-engineering. Just as a warning, there is a lot of comparison between the two versions in this review. After seeing both, I think I have no choice.

Both screen versions of this story have some very disturbing scenes. In this case, Hollywood does not back down, and I think that this was evident from the start, starting with David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network) as director. In this case, some of those disturbing moments are crucial to the characters' paths. It is an all in or fold occasion with this material.

The Tale of Two Lisbeths
 I have no idea who is the closer Lisbeth Salander to the book, but I know that there are some very serious differences in personality traits in the way that the two versions come across on screen. In the new version, she is no longer tough as nails. At the same time, she is no longer just someone you have to believe has a tough exterior because of her past, shown through flashbacks. This Lisbeth is much more fragile in both appearance and personality. She is a perpetual victim because she wears it on her sleeve. You can see the years of abuse and regret in this Lisbeth's expressions and mannerisms. She denounces the victim role and seeks revenge only because she gets pushed to a corner. I have to say that although I really like Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version (and I really do), there is something that rings true to human behavior about this new version with Rooney Mara that isn't present in the original. This may be a product of watching the wrong movie first, but it is almost difficult to believe such a tough chick like the one Noomi plays would find herself in those scenarios where she would put herself at risk, nor do I think many people would actually mess with her very often. I am thinking that this choice that the writers have made may also have something to do with giving her more of a character arc over the series, but time will tell. I could see this as a difficult departure for some to take though. There is one scene where there is a completely different choice that Lisbeth is about to make (rather than not help somebody), which I find very interesting. I'd better not give that away, though.

After watching Michael Nyqvist play Mikael Blomkvist in the lead, the only more obvious choice after picking someone with such a similar name to the character, was to pick Daniel Craig to play the part for the English language production. It's like a no-brainer. Craig does really well in this part, but again, as much as I do like the acting in the Swedish version, it is not the acting but the dialog that really sets the two movies apart. I find that the characters are just more fleshed out in the newer version. Mikael is not nearly as fleshed out as Lisbeth in the new version, but a decent amount over the Sweedish production. One difference I will say is that there is a whole lot more chemistry going on between Craig and Mara. You could actually feel it before Lisbeth takes their relationship in a new direction, where as Nyqvist just seems to be blindsided, maybe because he was just used in that version. Either way, there is a lot more tension between the two here.

There are some omissions in this newer movie that I had to question after watching the 2009 version, but there is enough new that I think that the whole production was not only worth it, but this movie keeps you wanting more. All of the acting in the new adaptation is exceptional. Christopher Plummer is always good, and his portrayal of Henrik Vanger is right on par with the one played by Sven-Bertil Taube, which I liked every bit as much, by the way.

The visual quality of this movie is where it really stands out. This is really quite a visually striking movie, even in its bleak overtones. In fact, I think that this is the one area where it completely trumps the other film without any question. This movie simply looks amazing. The score by Atticus Ross and former Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor is also very good. I think that this may have been his calling all along. In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it kind of propels Lisbeth's moments on screen in a way that I don't think a traditional orchestral score would. This is not to say that the guy has learned quite a bit about nuance and ambiance over the years, to go along with his edgier stuff. The duo won an Oscar and Golden Globe for their score for The Social Network, where Reznor's keyboard / digital feel also had a hand in the presence of the film.

Overall: 8.5 (out of 10)

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