Monday, December 26, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: He said, She said.

We've been thinking of doing this for a while now, or at least I have, and finally I'm doing it. I give you two reviews of Dragon Tattoo, Donald's and mine. One of us loved it, one of us hated it. Enjoy, comment, and share, if you feel like it! For more of Donald, visit his blog: Blessed Are The Geeks

The Boy Who Didn't Like This Movie (Donald said)


Before I sat down in the theater last night to watch this movie, I knew only two things about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: The title, and that for the past two years or so I haven't been able to go anywhere without seeing somebody reading one of the novels. I saw the trailer once when it first come out months ago, and thought it was pretty neat but incomprehensible, but I'm a big fan of Daniel Craig (even since before he was James Bond!) and my friend wanted to see it, so I figured I'd check it out. After all, all those millions of people who read the books and saw the original Swedish films couldn't be wrong, right?

Wrong. Turns out, this movie was horrible.

I don't mean to say The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a bad movie, since the story was interesting and well plotted, the cast was exceptional, the cinematography was gorgeous, the score was wonderful, and the entire production undoubtedly turned out exactly as the filmmakers intended. All I'm saying is that those filmmakers intended to make a horrible film, that I'm assuming was based upon a horrible book. I haven't read the book so I can't really speak to whether or not it was as horrible as this film, but I'll never know since I'll never read it. I'll also never see this film again, and I'm hoping that after I finish this review I'll never even have to think about it again.

This was ostensibly a mystery story, although any fan of the genre will have figured out the major twists and revelations almost immediately upon learning what the actual mystery is. I won't spoil anything, but it was very predictable, albeit interesting and well done. I described it as "ostensibly a mystery story," since it took a long time for that plot to get going, spending way too much time setting the mood and personality of the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, who I will charitably refer to as an anti-hero. If I decided not to be charitable, I would simply say she was one of the most reprehensible, unlikable, and downright awful characters I've ever seen presented as a heroine in a major motion picture. This woman was a sociopath who should've been locked up in an institution, not presented as some kind of hero.

The rest of the characters didn't fair much better, since everybody seemed to be rude to everybody else, except for the people with whom they were having sex, but sometimes also both. Daniel Craig, our other hero, is shown to be a not that nice guy too, since he cheated on his wife, then goes ahead and cheats on his mistress too. Daniel Craig, at least, is a wonderful, charming actor who has the talent and ability to create a likeable, interesting character out of this mess of a story. (But I never managed to figure out why he was the only person in this movie who didn't speak in a Swedish accent, but whatever.) I have no idea what Rooney Mara was doing, but I didn't like it. She spent the entire movie looking and acting like a ghoul. She didn't act so much as just stand there sucking energy out of the room.

Then there was the the rape scene, and all that other nonsense that director David Fincher loves to put into his films. This was a film for the people who saw his earlier film Se7en and came away from it thinking, "You know, there wasn't enough rape..." I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying this movie contains one of the most brutal and off-putting rape scenes in movie history, but I also don't care since I wish somebody had spoiled it for me. Here's the thing: I don't need to watch people getting raped and I don't want to watch people raped. This kind of crime certainly has a place in both literary and cinematic fiction, but this scene was so graphic and so disturbing, and yet served no real purpose that I could understand. I think there was a brutal rape scene just for the sake of having a rape scene, and then for the sake of having a scene where the girl basically rapes the man who raped her. None of this came into play again, nor did it ever tie in with the main story or serve any logical purpose within the context of the film. It was just horrible, and it took a film that would've just been kind of boring and bland and made me hate it.

I think maybe these rape scenes were in the film (and make no mistake: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo raped and tortured that man, making her just as villainous and disgusting as he was) were to create the illusion of a world where everybody is a sexual predator and where everybody is capable of horrible things. Or maybe director David Fincher and author Stieg Larsson are just creepy, weird perverts.

The mystery elements of the story were a lot better, at least the parts following Daniel Craig as he attempts to research and solve a murder from 40 years in the past. One the Girl shows up as his research assistant, it gets kind of dumb and loses focus, since her computer hacking and research skills border on the supernatural. This is one of those movies where there is nothing a hacker isn't able to do or find out just by typing a couple keystrokes on her macbook. She even manages to hack into a steal account and password numbers from a few dozen Swiss bank accounts, which raises the question of why she even has a job in the first place. Oh, and then the slow-paced, dialogue-driven mystery story culminates in a ridiculously over the top motorcycle chase scene.

Except that didn't actually "culminate" anything, since the film went on for another half hour or so even after the mystery was solved and any interest any audience member could've possibly had in the film vanished. Seriously, did anybody who saw this film not think it could've ended twenty minutes sooner?

But don't take my word for it, since everybody who read the books and saw the original films loved them all. I didn't think it was a bad film, I just kind of hated it. I found it incredibly disturbing, but it never earned the right or proved to me that it served any purpose at all. I didn't like the characters and I found the entire world-view presented to be so nihilistic and depressing and cold that it bored on the ridiculous. In other words, it's your typical David Fincher film.

Skol, Lisbeth: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Anna said)

This is the most difficult review I've ever written.

I'm not a violent or rageful person, but there are situations in art and film where I think it's absolutely warranted. In school I took heat for being the only one who defended Kill Bill, volume one, protesting that The Bride's actions were justified given the way she had been wronged. This position may have been colored by the fact that I was myself five months pregnant at the time, but I still salute Tarantino (and Thurman) for the portrayal whether or not it was wrong, glorified, or sociopathic---and I think most other mothers will too, to varying degrees. This film, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, like Kill Bill, is a beautifully crafted, horribly violent masterpiece, that hides among investigative journalism, a Swedish family dynasty, Nazis, murder, and mystery, a serious tale of the most disturbing kind of violence possible. The two "R's" in this story are Rape and Retribution, words that make most people uncomfortable, but the girl in our story, Lisbeth Salander, isn't interested in your comfort (nor are director (s) David Fincher, Niels Arden Oplev, or It's a film very much worth seeing, but . . . be aware, you won't feel very good for a while afterwards.

The narrative is a little tricky (and will be exceedingly so for those who haven't read the novel or seen the previous film release)---is this the story of The Vangers, of Mikael Blomkvist's professional struggles, or of Lisbeth Salander? The audience immediately gravitates to Craig's Blomkvist, as he's commanding, deliciously handsome, and interesting, but Lisbeth is given equal screen time; whether it's her motorcycle, fingers flying over her computer keyboard, or her violent encounters, Lisbeth is just as much of a main character as Blomkvist. By focusing on Lisbeth's story, a dark, violent, withdrawn existance exemplified horrifically by one of the most disturbing rape scenes ever filmed (not to mention its later avengement), we are sickened and horrified, but in a small way adequately prepared for what eventually gets uncovered in the case of Harriet Vanger's disappearance. She's more than just a foreshadowing tool, though, because once we can look outside her issues it's clear that Lisbeth is a woman with many talents---intelligence, a photographic memory, and overall, a stubborn refusal to play the victim. This story isn't just about her, it's about what happened to her, what in fact happens to many women, and what she does about it.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a recently disgraced journalist who is recruited by Henrick Vanger, an aging Swedish entrepreneur desperate to solve the mystery of his disappeared niece. While attempting to untangle the facts (and the members of the estranged Vanger family themselves), Blomkvist uncovers in old family photographs something he believes is new evidence that may reveal insight into the girl's disappearance. At the same time Blomkvist is researching the peculiarities of the Vanger Family in northern Sweden, Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara), a pierced, tattoed, seemingly anti-social researcher becomes involved, first providing information on Blomkvist to Vanger's attorney, and later by becoming Blomkvist's assistant in solving the case (which turns out to be bigger and more ominous than anyone imagined).

Bearing in mind that Larsson's original title was "Man som hatar kvinnor" (Men Who Hate Women), the stories of the two very different women (Harriet Vanger, Lisbeth) are alike in what they suffered, but different in outcome. People don't like to hear about rape; in the film, even Blomkvist himself tries to hurry Lisbeth past graphic details of the rapes and murders they're researching, but Lisbeth would not be dissuaded; she's not letting him (or us) off the hook in knowing it just as she refuses to let her own abusers off the hook in perpetrating it, which honestly seems a bit toned down, compared to the novel. What was originally written as "I'm going to take him," became "May I kill him?" for the film, suggesting Lisbeth's subservience to Blomkvist or perhaps in general a culture which will always be controlled by men, but let's not fool ourselves---mercy for rapists is difficult (if not impossible) to come by, and Lisbeth's strength in facing Harriet's abuser as well as her own, is remarkable. Saying that as a viewer, I was out for blood is putting it mildly, but there it is. Am I sociopathic for feeling that way? I don't think so, I just really strongly believe in not raping, as I'm sure many others do, also. If the message people walk away from the film with is DON'T DO THAT, super.

Was David Fincher a fool to remake this film? Not at all. Foreign films are delightful to be sure, but many Americans just won't put in the subtitle time, which I'm sure Fincher knows. I've seen the Swedish version, enjoyed it, and thought that this project was a very close reissue, but there were wonderful "Fincher" moments----amazing opening credits, killer music, and a dark, twisted cleverness throughout that contrasted but also sort of leaked into the deceptive brightness, white snow, estate buildings, and whistling cold of the landscapes of Northern Sweden. Cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth; original music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a group that obviously works well together.

Keep it up, Finch.

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