Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)

Mikael and Lisbeth.

To be honest, my first reaction when I first heard about this Hollywood adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel was that of utter irritation. Although I haven't read the novels, I just believe at the time that there's no absolute necessity in making a western adaptation of a book that has already been masterfully made 3 years ago by a Swedish production. 

I remember that I even shook my head when I saw both the first pictures of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander and the very run-of-the-mill (by thriller film standards) trailer itself. Though I more than agree about the casting of Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, all in all, I just don't really care that much about this project from its pre-production stage up to the initial releases of promotional materials. 

"The Swedish film is enough for me, let them have this Americanized Dragon Tattoo." This has been my subliminal mantra before the film's very release. Now reminiscing my ridiculous demeanor towards this Hollywood adaptation as I write this review, fresh from watching the very film of which I have been quite disdainful of, I can only think of one phrase to sum up this pre-judgmental flaw of mine: "Oh, how wrong I was". 

But with that, I'm not saying that this adaptation, as great a stand-alone film it is, is head over heels better than the 2009 film. For a lack of a better word, both films, as far as overall quality is concerned, are 'stalemate', which applies even to the performances themselves. Although I would say that, with a gun pointed at my head, Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander has the softer spot in my heart, I believe that Rooney Mara is as enigmatic in her interpretation, if not as charismatic. 

Daniel Craig, on the other hand, offers a more athletic-looking Mikael Blomkvist and is very into his character that his body language in the film is very effortless in scenes of unbearable suspense and surprising tenderness. Despite of his affiliation in that little movie franchise about an indestructible and highly sexual spy agent we call James Bond, Craig has been very, very believable in this film as a vulnerably mild-mannered journalist torn between the sheer passion of his investigative work and the preservation of his pristine name as a well-known one.

Stellan Skarsgard and Christopher Plummer, on the other hand, offer great presences in vital roles, while Robin Wright makes up for her limited screen time as Blomkvist's editor and lover quite well.

Though I must say that Michael Nyqvist (the Swedish Mikael Blomkvist) possesses the more world-weary physical demeanor that suits the character better, Daniel Craig is the more intense one compared to the former, which makes him more capable in shouldering the heavier scenes as the peril of the story piles up. 

Just like what I've mentioned in my review of the earlier Swedish adaptation, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", as intriguing as its little whodunit murder mystery is, is a thriller of characters, not of plot. David Fincher, the perfect man in Hollywood to handle this film (and the whole "Millennium" Trilogy) with great composure, balance and proper genre experience, did just what the expectations call for him to do. 

A man that I can rightfully regard as one of the contemporary greats of the thriller/suspense genre, with works like "Se7en", "Zodiac" and even "Fight Club", Fincher is a humane handler of characters even within the most unbearably disturbing (e.g. Cops tracking down gruesome killers, a founder of a gazillion dollars worth of social networking empire (just kidding)), or the most unusual (e.g. a man physically growing old backwards, an insomniac with a split personality), of situations. And in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", it really shows. 

In a worst case scenario, both Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Bomkvist can be turned into characters that may closely mirror members of Scooby-Doo's mystery machine, with the Vanger murder mystery serving as the shadowy plot to unmask and the 'it's him all along' twist serving as its burdening cliche. 

David Fincher, armed with a strong source material and a screenplay of considerable strength by Steven Zaillian, was able to give great priority to the characters without sacrificing any chances of turning the very story into a muddled maze merely solved by taking the wrong path just so a sort of closure, however half-baked, can be attained. 

Our protagonists, aside from being a two-team investigative force, are also two people wrapped in romantic ambiguity. Tackled by the Swedish adaptation with recurring hints of mutual affection, this film has even rendered their relationship close to perfection. It's not much their sexual scenes that have enforced this idea but the subtlest of moments. 

One poignant scene near the end of the film is when Blomkvist and Salander are lying considerably apart in bed as if two reflective lovers. In the scene, there has been no direct gestures of affection directed to each other save for Lisbeth's retelling of her scarred past and their lingering eye contact. 

The camera position perfect, that little space in the middle a spot-on balance-giver to the whole moment and the lighting totally exact. As they lie there subliminally contemplating what their relationship really means and as we absorb this key scene, the more that we already know what the answer is. And surely so that in another scene, as a sales clerk asks Lisbeth to whom will she give the jacket she had just bought, a gift obviously intended for Mikael, she answered that it's only for a 'friend'. 

Well, after all that she has gone through in the film, that which involves digging up absolute truths hidden layers deep within the snow-covered wilderness of the fictional town of Hedestad, we're quite aware that what she said to the sales clerk was a lie.

"What is hidden in snow, comes forth in the thaw" is the film's tagline that's also a Swedish proverb. It was indeed a half-century old tale of hate, murder, and misogyny that was unearthed, but so are shades of something that resembles love. One of the absolute sleeper hits of 2011.


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