Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011 film)

Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the story of a disgraced journalist who is hired by a billionaire to discover the disappearance of the man’s niece some 36 years ago. The journalist then teams up with an unconventional researcher where they uncover a bigger secret that revolves around the murder of women many years back. Directed by David Fincher and screenplay by Steve Zaillian, the U.S. version of the film shows a very different take on the popular Swedish novel. Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Steven Berkoff, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Goran Visijnic, and Stellan Skarsgard. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thrilling yet mesmerizing film from David Fincher.

After losing a libel case against billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Ulf Friedberg), journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is facing a prison sentence as well as the possible loss of Millennium magazine which he runs with editor/lover Erika Berger (Robin Wright). When an attorney named Dirch Frode (Steven Berkoff) contacts Blomkvist about coming to Hedeby Island in Hedestad, Blomkvist reluctantly goes to meet aging billionaire Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). The ailing Vanger has just received another flower portrait as he is still haunted by the disappearance of his niece Harriet (Moa Garpendal) some 40 years ago where he asks Blomkvist to solve the mystery while offering him information on Wennerstrom that Blomkvist could use as he moves to a nearby cottage.

Meanwhile, a young researcher named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is dealing with the stroke of her state-sponsored guardian as her finances are handled by a sadistic lawyer named Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen). After some horrific sexual encounters with Bjurman, Salander fights back as she was able to get some money while still hacking into Blomkvist’s computer whom she was hired by Frode to look into. After a visit from his teenage daughter Pernilla (Josefin Asplund), Blomkvist makes a breakthrough in finding out Harriet’s disappearance which relates to the Vanger family association with the Nazis and the mysterious murders that had occurred in Sweden for many years. After Vanger falls ill and the family want Blomkvist out, Blomkvist still wants to continue as Frode suggests getting Salander to help out as the two meet.

With Salander and Blomkvist each delving into the mysteries of these murders as Salander travels around Sweden while Blomkvist talks to people in the family. Both realize that someone doesn’t want them to finish the investigation as they’re getting closer to solving the mystery. With Blomkvist also dealing with a possible prison sentence, Lisbeth helps him out with his own legal issues by making some moves on her own as the two would eventually uncover the mystery of Harriett Vanger’s disappearance.

The film is about a journalist and a researcher uncovering the disappearance of a young girl some 36 years ago who was possibly killed. Yet, it’s also about two very different people whose job is to find things as they come together in this mystery where it would lead to religious-driven yet ritualistic murders, a family’s Nazi past, and what happened to this young girl. Screenwriter Steve Zaillian creates a story that is faithful to the book and has a similar structure of sorts to the 2009 version of the film. The major difference is that smaller characters such as Erika Berger, Dirch Frode, security officer Dragan Armansky (Goran Visijnic), and Nils Bjurman are given more to do while there is also some ambiguity that concerns the character of Anita Vanger (Joely Richardson) whom had not contacted the family for years.

While a lot of the suspense, violent content, and subplots relating to Lisbeth’s own life and Blomkvist’s own legal issues are there. There are a few flaws in the script in Zaillian’s approach to the story such as an inclusion of a scene where Erika visits Blomkvist at Hedestad to make a deal with Vanger about the magazine which does help out the part in Blomkvist’s own legal and financial issues. It just doesn’t really seem to fit in with the film while some of the discovery of clues aren’t as drawn out though the scene where Blomkvist’s daughter talks about Bible quotes leading to Blomkvist finding out a clue is a nice creation of its own. Despite those drawbacks, Zaillian’s script is still quite engaging for its suspense as well as creating fantastic development for the film’s main characters.

David Fincher’s direction of the film is truly hypnotic from an extremely crazy opening credits sequence to the entrancing images of the Swedish location in its snowy scenes as well as some of the nighttime scenes. There is also an intensity to the way Fincher films Lisbeth’s motorcycle rides and a chase scene in the third act while he also keeps it simple for some conversation-driven and dramatic scenes. Still, Fincher’s mastery in suspense is quite energetic without being too fast while building momentum to allow the mystery to unfold. Overall, Fincher creates a very solid and exciting film that is gritty and also exotic in its imagery.

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth does a superb job with the film‘s stylish yet gorgeous cinematography from the snowy landscapes of the Hedeby Island to the low-colored yet eerie look of the nighttime exteriors of the highways and cities plus the interiors that are filled low-lights to play out some of the darker portions of the film. Editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall do a fantastic job with the editing in creating montages of Lisbeth and Blomkvist each doing their own investigation while utilizing jump-cuts and other stylistic-cuts to help maintain a slightly fast but leisured pace for the film.

Production designer Donald Graham Burt, along with set decorator K.C. Fox and art director Mikael Varhelyi, does an excellent job with the set pieces created such as the large home of Henrik Vanger to the small cottage that Blomkvist and Lisbeth lived in during the investigation. Costume designer Trish Summerville does a wonderful job with the costumes from the casual yet cold clothing for the entire cast to the more Gothic, punk-inspired look of Lisbeth. Visual effects supervisor Eric Barba does a fine job with the minimal visual effects used in the film to add a few touches for the film‘s visual look. Sound designer Ren Klyce does a phenomenal job with the sound work to help enhance some of the chilling suspense of the film as well as play up the cold location of the island that Vanger lives in.

The film’s music includes pieces ranging from electronic, metal, and pop that’s played on location including one of the most disturbing uses of Enya’s Orinoco Flow (Sail Away) for a very gruesome scene. Yet, the large portion of the film’s score and soundtrack is dominated by Nine Inch Nails’ mastermind Trent Reznor and longtime cohort Atticus Ross. The score by Reznor and Ross has an unsettling feel due to the electronic arrangements the band puts into the sound ranging from dark ambient to intense yet dissonant industrial-driven pieces. Reznor and Ross also contribute a couple of covers such as Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, with Yeah Yeah Yeahs vocalist Karen O, and Bryan Ferry’s Is Your Love Strong Enough? performed by Reznor and Ross’ group How to Destroy Angels. The overall work is truly outstanding though it doesn’t top Reznor and Ross’ previous work in the soundtrack for The Social Network.

The casting by Laray Mayfield is terrific for the ensemble that is created which includes small yet notable performances from Julian Sands as a young Henry Vanger, Moa Garpendal as the missing girl Harriet, Josefin Asplund as Blomkvist’s daughter Pernilla, Embeth Davidtz as Blomkvist’s sister Annika, Elodie Yung as Lisbeth’s girlfriend Miriam, Donald Sumpter as local police investigator Morell, Goran Visijnic as security officer Armansky, Ulf Friedberg as Blomkvist’s billionaire target von Wennerstrom, Geraldine James as Harriet’s cousin Cecilia, Per Myrberg as Henrik’s Nazi-brother Harald, Jurgen Klein as Henrik’s other yet deceased brother Gottfried, and Tony Way as Lisbeth’s hacker friend Plague.

Other noteworthy supporting roles include Steven Berkoff as Vanger’s lawyer Dirch Frode and Joely Richardson in a wonderful performance as the mysterious Anita Vanger. Robin Wright is very good as Blomkvist’s lover/co-editor Erika Berger while Yorick van Wageningen is supremely awesome in a very evil role as Lisbeth’s new guardian Nils Bjurman. Stellan Skarsgard is excellent as the charming yet mysterious Martin Vanger, Harriet’s brother. Christopher Plummer is superb as the ailing Henri Vanger who asks Blomkvist to solve a murder while also to help him deal with his ruined reputation.

Daniel Craig is brilliant as disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist as Craig brings a quiet yet determined approach to the character as well as a complexity to a man that wants to redeem himself following a libel case. Finally, there’s Rooney Mara in a magnificent breakthrough performance as Lisbeth Salander. While Mara brings a more intense yet reserved performance in the role that was played by Noomi Rapace in the 2009 Swedish film. Mara does manage to make Salander into her own in the way she deals with abuse as well as being the one person who is smarter than Blomkvist. The chemistry that Craig and Mara has is fun to watch as they’re two different people who manage to find common ground in trying to solve the mystery as they really are the highlight of the film.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a remarkable film from David Fincher that features outstanding performances from Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig along with great technical work and a haunting score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. While it’s a very different from the 2009 Swedish film, Fincher is able to give the film his own take on Stieg Larsson’s novel by infusing his own visual style into the film. In the end, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a smart yet exciting thriller from David Fincher.

Millennium Trilogy (Swedish): The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - (The Girl Who Played with Fire) - (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest)

© thevoid99 2011


Anonymous said...

For a remake of a foreign flick, this is great mainly because of Fincher's incredible direction but going in, I knew everything and it went a little too fast for me to actually get the real tension that this film was feeding me. Great review Steve.

edgarchaput said...

@thevoid: You were quite impressed with Fincher's movie, as was I. He does have a special visual style, does he not? Visually, there is something very interesting about his films, like every scene is dark in some way, moody even, even scenes that take place in daylight. It's really weird. I completely agree about the strong chemistry between the two leads.

On the flip side, I wish the script had been more economical. It falls prey to the same issues the Swedish version did: too much plot.

Sam Fragoso said...

Very good review.

Unlike most folks I watched Fincher's version without seeing the original.

However, yesterday I did sit down and watch the Swedish version.

Still torn which one I like more. I'm leaning towards the latter one mentioned.

Keep up the good work Steve.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-I admit that I wanted things to slow down a bit more so I can let the mystery unfold for me to really figure out what is going on though having seen the 2009 Swedish version. I kind of knew what was going to happen.

@Edgar-I agree that the script needed less plot as I wanted more time to invest into the mystery and such. One of the things I liked about the Swedish version more was how Lisbeth and Mikael were able to do more together in figuring things out.

@Sam-It's hard for me to say which is better as they're both have similarities and differences. From a technical scale, I would give Fincher the edge though from a script standpoint, the Swedish version. I'm still not sure about whose performances are better. I'll probably figure out later on.

Thanks for the comments guys.