Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by Pa Rock
Citizen Film Critic

What business does an American film crew have in tackling a Swedish novel that has almost risen to the level of a national treasure – particularly since the Swedes themselves made a highly acclaimed movie of that same material just two years ago? Certainly profit motive was a major factor in creating an American version of the film of the late Steig Larsson’s terrific novel – but I suspect there were a couple of darker reasons for Hollywood’s rush to film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

My gut feeling is that there is a pervasive sense among American moviegoers that good films can only come from America - that, and the reluctance of Americans to bother themselves with reading subtitles.  Subtitles, after all, are for foreigners.

It’s all ethnocentric crap, of course, which is close to what I expected to see on the screen last Saturday night when a friend and I ventured to one of our local military theatres to see director David Fincher's take on Larsson’s monumental bestseller. I fully expected to be disappointed.

(Disclaimers: First, I have read all three of Larsson’s Blomkvist-Salander novels and loved them – and I don’t recall ever seeing any movie that lived up to the book on which it was based. Second, I have been to Stockholm and walked some of the old cobblestone streets described so vividly in the novels.  I hoped to recognize at least a few of those places in the movie. And third, I saw Daniel Craig in New York City a couple of years ago and knew that it would take nothing less than demonic possession to pass him off as a Swede.)

The movie, to my utter disbelief, was far better than I expected. The first two-thirds of it followed the book, almost tediously at times, but was nevertheless a product that Steig Larsson would have embraced. There was one significant detour from the text toward the end of the film – the Australia bit was left out, and an alternative narrative was used. That maneuver probably shaved five minutes off of a movie that was already a bladder-buster, and it didn’t hurt the quality of the tale – but I still resented it as an unnecessary manipulation of a finely tuned plot. (Hollywood, when you have the opportunity to leave an author's work alone, do it!)  That minor and unnecessary transgression was, in fact, my only complaint.

No, I didn’t see any Stockholm sights that I recognized, but most, if not all, of the film appeared to have been shot in Sweden and had a very authentic feel.

Many of the actors, as well, had Swedish names and rich Swedish accents. Three of the main players, however, weren’t Swedes. The venerable Christopher Plummer (remember him as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music?) who portrayed Henrik, the sad patriarch of the massively rich Vanger family, is Canadian.  Daniel Craig, a.k.a. Mikael Blomquist, the disgraced reporter and magazine publisher, is a Brit, and Rooney Mara, the tattooed and pierced bi-sexual computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, is American.

Daniel Craig gave an acceptable performance and was believable in the role of Blomkvist, which was a welcome surprise. It was Rooney Mara’s ability to completely become the complex Lisbeth Salander, however, that fired this film with unbridled intensity. She was absolutely astounding as one of the most complex characters to come roaring out of the pages of a novel – on a motorcycle – and onto the big screen in generations.

I haven’t seen the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet, but I will – and I look forward to getting the Swedish take on this Swedish material – and I’m not too lazy to read subtitles. But even if that film is exceptional, and I have heard that it is, the American version is still mighty damned good!

1 comment:

Don said...

Since I haven't seen the American version and you haven't seen the
Swedish effort, it's hard to comment intelligently. Still ... Noomi Rapace as Salander is a performance I'll not soon forget. The Swedish version, too, was extraordinarily faithful to Larssen's book. And while it didn't eliminate the Australia bit, that part of the move wasn't nearly as compelling as everything that preceded it.