Friday, December 30, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I have not read the book (or any of the books in the series), nor have I seen the Swedish version of the film.  I wanted to see the movie from previews and my neighbors really liked it.  I really like my neighbors, so their endorsement was good enough.

This past weekend was Christmas and I had some time off from work.  One of my goals was to see this film, so we caught a 4:45 p.m. – in time for the matinee discount. 

The film is based on the novel by Stieg Larsson – he wrote three stories in the series and then he died.  CBS Sunday Morning did a good piece on him and there are some legal issues between his longtime partner and his family.  You can Google all of that.  My review is more about the film, the story and its characters.

The movie is about an investigative journalist who is asked to research a man’s life for his memoirs – Christopher Plummer (yes, he’s still alive).   The journalist (Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist) has just experienced a slander charge with fines linked to a mogal businessman.  Plummer had Craig’s character investigated before asking him to visit his remote, northern Swedish island where he resides.  The firm that conducted the investigation employs a troubled/complex young woman named Lisbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo.

Dreamy Craig
So Craig agrees to meet with Plummer’s character and he learns that aside from the man wanting a memoir, the story of his family and life on the island has been painful and complex.  The man’s biggest regret was not knowing what happened to his niece who died in the 1960’s.  Plummer’s thought is that a family member killed this niece (Harriet is the character’s name).

Craig embarks in this journey to learn about the man’s family, and more so, about the mystery of Harriet.  At the same time, we get to know Lisbeth a little better and how dark and sad her personal existence has been.  Lisbeth, who is thin, pale and dresses like a character out of Mad Max is an ace investigator for a private firm, is also a ward of the state due to her tragic childhood.  In the movie, we see her meeting a new caseworker that controls her access to money and reports on her progress.
American Lisbeth

The journalist and the investigator finally meet when Craig’s character is enthralled in the Harriet mystery and requires the assistance of an assistant.  This is where the film turns into a crime mystery with lots of time researching and looking at old photos.  Anymore would be too much.

So, what did I think?  I think the film was beautifully made and will probably hurt Swedish tourism.  The hues of the film leaned to the greys, blacks and white of a bleak and cold Swedish landscape.  The film’s director, David Fincher, sure knows how to create an authentic setting.  Fincher’s work is impressive and often leans to the dark side (Google him). 

The cast ranges from a few familiar faces to some lessor know actors.  Lisbeth is played by Rooney Mara and you could consider this a breakout role.  The transformation of a young, wealthy actress to this dark, troubled character is quite amazing.  I didn’t really read about the cast ahead of time and thought Mara was a foreign actor…I was wrong, she’s from the US and this makes her performance even more special and courageous.

Craig’s performance is low-key and masculine, but not macho.  In all honesty, he’s so appealing to watch as he’s beautiful looking and his styling is hypnotic.  His accent is non-descript, which seems a little out of place considering many of the actors attempt Swedish accents while speaking English.  This is a little distracting so I assume the director was okay with this inconsistency…I guess we are to forgive as well.

The film seems long and complicated, but I was okay with this as so many films seem short and I’m left wanting more, or at least more complexity.  This film weaves several stories with several endings.  Let me be clear, the film doesn’t introduce several scenarios as endings, but there are several stories needing closure.  Everyone knows there are two other books, so at the end you are craving the next movie to see where else Lisbeth’s life leads.

I am troubled by some of the imagery of the film….yet it’s not the movie’s fault, it’s part of the story.  I guess I’m disturbed that such dark, disturbing details about characters were written in the first place.  I tend to think I like gritty books and movies, but at the end of the day, I’m upset with such graphic narrative.  I wonder why authors go as far as they do and then filmmakers depict such stories.  I swear I’m not a fundamentalist prude, but I do think about the minds of artists when they are writing.  I wonder why they “go there.”  I am very certain that humans do horrible things to each other and I believe art reflects life, but I sometimes wish we didn’t chronicle such horrible acts under the guise of art.  I suppose I’m naïve.  All I know is that when I see horrific imagery in television or art, it stays with me and distracts me from the piece as a whole.

Lisbeth’s character has obviously endured offenses we would not wish on our enemies and we’re supposed to think this is why she is such a special character. And it’s true, many amazing and interesting people have suffered atrocities in their lives and all of this makes their personal character and drive.  I know authors have vivid minds and explore dark sides of the human psychy, but sometimes it teeters on the salacious.  I think I would be more interested in a story about Stieg and why he developed this character.

Aside from the disturbing scenes, I enjoyed the movie as an experience.  I think the character of Lisbeth is amazing, but her portrayal was flawed only by how she’s been created.  The more I think about her relationship with Craig, the more annoyed I become.  Because their relationship does become sexual, I feel as though we tilt over to male fantasy and not reality.

Without giving too much away, Craig does find himself in a life threatening and vulnerable position.  There is an intimacy scene shortly afterwards where he’s more concerned about solving the mystery than his sexual experience and gratification (of his partner).  To make myself like his character more, I’ve convinced myself that he still vulnerable.  I don’t think this is the case, but it’s allowed me to swallow the storyline a little better.

So, after what you’ve read you may be asking….did she like it or not?  I liked the film in general, but I’m not as impressed with the development of characters and core intentions (of the author).  Full disclosure, I think I can swallow horrific sex crimes when there are nameless, faceless victims in fiction…but in the case of this story, I’m troubled.  As I think about it, I want to think there are complex characters like Lisbeth who exist because they do…not because of the oppression inflicted upon them.  In other words, I want to see characters that are complicated without such a graphic backstory or even current existence.

God, I’m getting conservative in my old age…please forgive me.  And, Mara should win an Oscar in 2012.  

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