Nov 2, 2012

[Movies] The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

So I didn't like the book version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I ended up watching the movie anyway. And I'd like to think that I did my best to appreciate the movie as a creative work independent of the original book, but naturally some prejudices may have crept into the equation.

At least I tried, right?

Maybe that's the problem with this movie as a whole - or at least my problem with the movie if anything. And by "that" I'm referring to predices about the story coming into things. The movie has a lot going against it in this department.

First it was based on a book I didn't like. Second it used actors like Daniel Craig, whom we all associate with prior roles (namely James Bond). Third is that we all sort of have a general degree of expectations when it comes to David Fincher and it's a little tricky to determine just how a movie may turn out with him at the helm. Directorial vision is not always poweerful enough to salvage a story which "may" be inherently bad to begin with.

Did I mention I didn't like the book?

Synopsis: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the 2011 movie based on the Stieg Larsson book of the same name. This is not to be confused with the Swedish adaptation released in 2009 (directed by Niels Arden Oplev). The movie did receive a number of nominations and awards including the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

The movie begins with the co-owner of Milennium Magazine Michael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) being found guilty of libel in a case brought about by businessman Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg). In order to protect the magazine, Blomkvist offers his resignation so that his scandal will not bring the magazine down with him. He then receives a unique offer from one Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer) - a job of sorts to write a history of his family, which is really a cover for investigating the strange disappearance of his grand niece 40 years ago. In exchange, he offers Blomkvist information that can be used to prove Wennerström's corruption and thus redeem his name.

On a parallel track, we meet one Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a strange yet talented researcher / hacker who comes into the story to help Vagner initially gather information on Blomkvist before he makes his offer. As we follow her story, we learn that she is under state legal guardianship due to mental incompetency. Her previous guardian has suffered a stroke and now she has to work with Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), who is less than ideal in his role.

The movie goes along these two parallel tracks until the two main characters inevitably meet and the stories are merged, which is similar to how things were handled in the book. Initially this may seem like a cumbersome way of handling the story, but it certainly does help build up their respective character backgrounds so you have a better appreciation for things when they all come together.

I have to admit that Daniel Craig was not the sort of actor who came to mind when I first read the book. He brings far too much physicality to the table because of his James Bond experience (along with other more action-oriented roles), when ultimately the character of Blomkvist is really more of an intellectual - a sort of armchair detective in terms of the central mystery of this movie and thus not really meant for action. The only parts of this movie that call for the character to behave in a more physical manner consistent of running away from an unseen gunman and of course that weird confrontation scene with our top suspect, which is really more of a climax piece of course. And it's not like he has a lot of fighting to do and I guess it's hard for me to stop thinking of him as the big super spy.

Mara was certainly an interesting Lisbeth Salander and I have to admit she did a pretty good job of bringing the character to life. And in all fair consideration, she had some pretty challenging scenes to handle not just physically but emotionally as well. Lisbeth is one tough cookie and for the most part Mara managed to still get us to resonate with her character without resorting to be overly unemotional / deadpan. And that far too often becomes a mistake in how certain characters are portrayed on-screen.

My main challenge is the story as a whole, which still feels like a somewhat confused mess. I will give credit to Fincher and his writing team for managing to make the story as reasonable as it turned out in the movie. The book had far too many extraneous scenes that didn't really add value that were thankfully cut down or removed entirely in this version. However, there was still the need for excessive sex (and the movie still had less than what was in the book) that thus created even more weird echoes of James Bond without the payoff.

The final confrontation and the eventual revelations that explain the central mystery of things didn't feel as big as you'd think they would have been and thus felt a bit muted in final delivery. It certainly left me asking, "That's it?" a bit stronger then I would have liked and thus the movie didn't quite fulfill me in that regard,

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is certainly a good adaptation of a less than great story. They did what they could with the material and managed to keep the usual Hollywood tropes during such adaptations to a relative minimum. But I don't necessarily see the value in continuing this series any further. The movie manages 3 non-impressive research techniques demonstrated by Listeth such as just searching on Google out of a possible 5.

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