Monday, September 15, 2014

David Fincher Retrospective: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Director: David Fincher
Starring:  Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Goran Visnjic and Joel Kinnman as background Millennium employee.
Rated:  R

I'm not a recluse.  I don't close my door to anybody.  They just don't visit.
                  ~Henrik Vanger

I'll admit it, I had girl Stieg Larsson for a little bit.  My curiosity at seeing the covers of his Millennium trilogy books at Target, the grocery, where ever ended up getting the best of me.  Plus, the first one had a pretty intriguing title.  They were pretty solid page turners with good enough suspense and mystery to keep me up reading them before my eyes would tire.  I caught on to the books as the Swedish films were coming out, so I didn't have to wait long until they were adapted for the screen.  And watching those films, I fell for the outstanding Noomi Rapace.  The first film in that bunch was really good, however they botched The Girl Who Played With Fire pretty good (The best book in the series imo, once you get past the pointless first 100 or so pages) and Hornet's Nest just was "eh".  
There was a complete series of books and a complete series of films.  All said and done right?  Nope.  Americans don't like to read subtitles so we need to make one for the US.  Pointless if you ask me.  David Fincher was inserted to direct, which seemed an incredibly obvious and safe choice for the film, even if I love him as a director.  Without a frame being shot, you kind of already know what the film would look like.  However, I warmed more to this as I realized the second and third books in the Swedish film series weren't altogether that great and those could actually improve upon.  We'll get through Dragon Tattoo and then things will get better because Fincher will do ...Played With Fire and ...Kicked The Hornet's Nest better.  Daniel Craig's casting was just as uninspired as hiring Fincher as its an easy choice, plus Michael Nyqyist looks like the his Swedish doppleganger if you watch the movies.
Casting Lisbeth Salander was a huge deal.  Who was gonna land the part.  This was going to launch somebody or take them up a few notches.  Fincher went with Rooney Mara whom he liked working with on The Social Network.  It was sort of disappointing for me, as at the time I kinda had a grudge with how uninterested she was in A Nightmare On Elm Street (counting down the days, we're almost there) making me feel I hadn't seen anything in her that told me she could handle the role.  The truth of the matter was, I hadn't seen enough of her to know that she was fully capable.  In hind sight, I like this because its one of the few instances where a female gets cast without much on their resume or demand for them to take a big step in an iconic role.  Sort of the female equivalent to that of the Jai Courtneys and Sam Worthingtons of the world.
By the time December 2011 had come, I was so fizzled out and over the Dragon Tattoo fever that while I was still looking forward to the film it was kinda like "okay, lets get this over".  I think the book and the hype had swept over and people were kind of tired of it and just wanted to see the damn movie already.  To call it a flop would be wrong.  The box office numbers didn't meet expectations.  In this case, this was a bigger problem because the studio was planning on this being a big R-rated adult franchise that they could get 3 films out of (You never know, maybe four, Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest Part 1 and Part 2 to be trendy).  It also appeared if for a while that David Fincher wasn't even too interested in continuing on to do the following two adaptations.
The movie was kind of just how you expected it to be before even walking in.  Looked like a David Fincher movie and played out the story of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Changes to the source material weren't incredibly drastic.  I do need to credit the awesome James Bond-like opening credit sequence that did get me pretty jacked up for the film when it played.  And one thing I love is the choice to go with a cover of the Led Zeppelin classic "Immigrant Song".  Its the perfect mesh of an old school song with a newer more modern influence.  The cover perfectly compliments that of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander's team up for solving the big Vanger mystery.  Blomkvist being the old school classic, going through file boxes and interviewing people while Lisbeth uses tech and questionable methods to get the same kind of info.  
While it has some solid filmmaking, this whole movie's mystery is largely killed of any sort of surprise by mainly its casting.  Stellan Skarsgard is a great actor and in the heat of his "moment" he kills it here.  But hot damn if it isn't freaking obvious the guy did it from the moment he arrives on screen.  And the deduction of the main culprit in the film is made very clear just by the casting in the film.  "Let me introduce you to my family and list of you've never heard of, actor you've never heard of, actor you've never heard of and Stellan Skarsgard."  Maybe some people are oblivious to these sorts of things, but had I not read the book, I may have been bored with this movie's central mystery as it would be just a ticking clock until they finally told me that the guy they largely hinted to doing by his presence was indeed the guy who did it.  For the same reason as you know Joely Richardson is coming back with some importance for sure later on as you know they didn't get her for just one scene in the movie and 3 minutes of screentime.  This movie needed to either beef up its supporting cast or cast down to the point of unknowns for it to work.  That part of it makes it a yawner for those of us who like to solve the mystery its own means and not by the production's.
In the Swedish version, they also condensed the book a little bit to sort of tighten the amount of characters and in turn lessen the number of suspects.  Some characters were removed, some blended together and some just cut down on their amount of importance.  And I do agree with that, because the book has a large roster and many more interactions.  With the Swedish version of the film it still works.  In the US adaptation they cut it back even further, and I think they did in post too as Joel Kinnaman has zero to do but give some looks at his costars.  The US dilutes it too far, making it a weak suspect list (to make it painstakingly even more obvious).  It also cuts down on Mikael Blomkvist as a character, too as he's given far less to do and his interactions with the Vanger family left to almost nothing.  His stakes feel very empty and not present in this version of the film.  The "big mystery" also feels much lighter and carries the equal weight of a given episode of some television procedural like a Law & Order: SUV.  There are also touches to the tightening that make this series' universe feel very closed and small.
Rooney Mara ends up being this film's saving grace.  From her first released photo of Lisbeth Salander, you knew she wasn't messing around and was going to own this role.  And she really does.  She approaches it a bit different than Noomi Rapace and I believe both are quite great in the role and have no interest in debating who is better than who.  I like both, that's about where I draw it.  She's pretty extreme and totally loses herself in this moment.  The film decides to focus on her and not lose anything she has here story-wise from the book or Swedish film.  While her adventure is a bit more "action" oriented and over-the-top interesting, the rest of the film apparently did suffer in the editing or writing department because of it.  She is pretty spectacular here and I was down for another movie just to see her take the role to the next place.  I wasn't so much interested in more of these aside from that.  
David Fincher's rendition of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo I suppose winds up being underwhelming because its merely "ok" at best.  He shouldn't have taken on this film.  While he feels the perfect choice, its also not beneficial to him as a filmmaker to just sort of feel like he's sleepwalking through a movie.  Like the movies or not, up til this point, his catalog had always shown him taking on new challenges or finding new ways to strike at a certain genre.  This movie has none of that going on.  Its straightforward and kind of boring in terms of Fincher.  Rooney Mara is the standout from the film and that's about the best sell I have for it over the Swedish film, which I do enjoy more.  I hope it doesn't sound like I'm calling this movie horrible or not, because its not even close to being terrible, it just underwhelmed and didn't work for me for most of it.  This film does have a legacy though, and that's the legacy that people will probably always ask David Fincher and Rooney Mara about a sequel that I think has missed its chance of really happening.  But, the questions will continue to be asked and the two will give little answers that will be blown out of proportion positively by news outlets, like just this past weekend.  Its over, this fad is well passed, let's move on and let David do other things.

NEXT TIME:  How does your catalog rank, Mr. Fincher?

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