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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Directed by: David Fincher

Produced by: Soren Staermose
Ole Sondberg
Scott Rudin
Cean Chaffin

Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian

Based on: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Starring: Daniel Craig
Rooney Mara
Christopher Plummer
Stellan Skarsgard
Steven Berkoff
Robin Wright
Yorick van Wageningen
Joely Richardson

Music by: Trent Reznor
Atticus Ross

Cinematography by: Jeff Cronenweth
Fredrik Backar

Editing by: Kirk Baxter
Angus Wall

Studio(s): Scott Rudin Productions
Yellow Bird Films

Distributed by: Colombia Pictures

Release date(s): December 20, 2011 (United States)
December 21, 2011 (Sweden)
December 26, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 158 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Budget: $90 million

Box office revenue: $141, 725, 000

Seems like my trademark has become talking about reviewing movies, than going off into a cave for a couple of weeks, coming back for a few, and then shrinking back into the night from whence I came. Honestly, I've had as nearly many career comebacks as Terry Funk, and I've only been around for five (that's one for the marks!)! Well, things are going alright, regardless of my being swamped down with creating writing, late medieval literature and, ahem, film studies. I'll have you guys know that I have seem, as well as this film, Kill List, The Way Back (finally), and will be seeing The Artist tomorrow (I will have seen by the time of publication, so excuse the future tense being used for the past). Also, I have a little schedule lined up, so I can guarantee reviews for Source Code, J. Edgar, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and certainly there will be others in there. January is always my busy month, and I've got a good two weeks left before I work on my best and worst of 2011. As ever, I'm working by award calendar, so expect it up in February, and, as ever for you, keep those eyes posted!

Okay, so today's film is David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Unfortunately, I have yet to see the original, Swedish-language adaptation, but have a copy, so I'll get down to watching that at some point. However, I have read the book, which for a long time I avoided because everyone else was reading it, and now I can see what the fuss is about. It is one of the most intelligent and gripping thrillers I've ever read, and Larsson creates rich characters, displaying his grasp of an efficiency of language. Regardless, this is not about the book, this is about the adaptation. When judge a screen adaptation in relation to it's source, sometimes they forget that a film review is not about a comparison between the two: reading the book is merely a context, but where a film review is concerned, it may as well have not existed. Brief plot synopsis of Fincher's Dragon Tattoo; we follow Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist who has been shamed in the wake of losing a libel case. Wishing to retreat, he gets a lucrative offer from retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to write the Vanger family chronicle. This chronicle however are a ruse to deter his family, including Martin (Stellan Skarsgard) and Cecilia (Geraldine James), for images sake, as he is really being employed to investigate the disappearance of Henrik's niece Harriet, nearly forty years hence. Meanwhile, Henrik's lawyer Dirch Frode (Steven Berkoff) has hired Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to do a background check on Blomkvist. Without spoiling things we already know, through certain machinations in the plot, Salander and Blomkvist become aware of one another, and begin working together on the Harriet Vanger case.

To start with what is good, I will flag up the significance of the film's opening credit sequence. I know this may not sound like a big deal, but so many other films fail in this department. We are given some very striking images of people entwined and writhing around in what looks to be oil. Honestly, Barbara Broccoli of the James Bond franchise would be jealous! This sequence, featuring the cover of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song with Karen O on vocals, perfectly sets up what is to follow, and is the most outstanding opening to a film from 2011. Another of the film's great characteristics is the fact that this is a David Fincher interpretation more than adaptation. His stamp is all over the film, and this can be seen in numerous aspects. The cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth and Fredrik Backar is a fine example of cinematic storytelling, because although it is a very wordy story, images say far more than words. Also, since he began his collaboration with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on The Social Network, Fincher has carried over some that film's stylistic trademarks and applied it to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. As such, we get this fantastic synchronicity of the original score and Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall's editing. Each of these elements are great by themselves, but their synchronicity ensures that this story, a long, complex and complicated tale, has a consistent feeling of momentum about it. It's as though from the opening credits, the ball keeps rolling and doesn't let up until the credits roll. This a feature that has been distinctive to both this and The Social Network, and it is something quite unique in that there are no other films quite like them. Fincher's Dragon Tattoo is the fulfilment of his auteur status, in that he has taken an iconic source and made it completely his own. Finally, I'd like to flag up a number of the film's key players, because, as they say, a good cast is worth repeating! Daniel Craig is a convincingly weather-beaten Mikael Blomkvist and in a much smaller capacity, I enjoyed Steven Berkoff's performance as Dirch Frode. Also, Stellan Skargard and Christopher Plummer both deliver great supporting turns in their respective roles as Martin and Henrik Vanger. However, Rooney Mara in particular deserves praise for her tremendous performance as Lisbeth Salander. With Fincher (admirably) by no means pussyfooting around the source's dark content, Mara has the toughest part to execute, and she takes these challenges in her pride. In a convincing transformation, she doesn't so much act as slither into the skin of Salander and make flesh this character. She has a magnetic screen presence which despite being a 'big' character in some ways, comes across as wholly naturalistic and believable. Also, on a side-note, the costume and make-up for Mara's transformation contributes a good bit, but I still do not think it would have been nearly as convincing as it is without Mara. What could have been simply a sulky, moody young woman becomes a three-dimenional, fully-rounded human being, an unlikely heroine who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Ellen Ripley, and Mara's outstanding performance is a key component of this immortalisation.

Now, don't get me wrong, I thought that Fincher's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a great film. However, I cannot say that it is a masterpiece and that there a few problems with the script by Steven Zaillian. While certainly it must be hard to nail all the characters in this labyrinthine plot, I really don't feel that you get to know any of the characters outside of the main leads. This is an issue because a number of the supporting cast get the same amount of screen time, but some of them aren't given a sufficiently crafted part to play. Also, this is detrimental to the performances, specifically Robin Wright and some of the others playing members of the Vanger family. Speaking of the actors (on a quick side note), where is the consistency of accents? It can be irritating and make the other performers look weaker if some of them have an accent and other don't! Anyway, back to the script, I also thought that the final twenty/twenty-five minutes was something that needed working at. I liked the ending, but those penultimate moments came across as rather rushed and contrived, which was very disappointing given how much I did like the film.

Regardless of the numerous script problems, David Fincher's version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a great film. He follows through with his uncompromised vision, and once again Reznor and Ross' score synchronises well with the editing, giving the film a feeling of continuous momentum. Also, the cinematography is a great example of a film, though wordy, telling it's tale cinematically. Finally, with one of the greatest credit sequence in film and some stellar acting turns, particularly the quite brilliant Rooney Mara, we have one of the most satisfying thrillers of 2011.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good (uni work out of the way, I can get down to some hardcore reviewing!)

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