Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lost in the Woods

I struggled to decide what I thought about the American re-make of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I have not seen the Swedish language version, nor have I read the best selling Steig Larsson novel on which the film is based and, quite frankly, I am bored by the politics of Hollywood re-making foreign language films in order to a wider American audience. Best selling books and business decisions aside, is David Fincher's US$100 million follow up to what, for my money, was the best film of 2010 - The Social Network - actually any good?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a very handsomely made film. The photography by Jeff Cronenweth (son of legendary cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, himself responsible for no small part of the iconic look of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner) creates interiors bathed in a sickly green hue of phosphorescent lamps to contrast with the whites and blues of the Swedish countryside. The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose is discordant in much the same pop-synth way as their work on The Social Network. And David Fincher, as ever, directs with laser targeted precision - all of the shots are framed according to strict rules of Euclidean geometry

The actors are also excellent. Roony Mara is totally committed to what could easily have been a laughable superwoman character - violent, bisexual, capable of doing anything with a computer, but also beautiful and eager to jump into bed with the journalist played by Daniel Craig (more than a whiff of wish fulfillment on Steig Larsson's part there). But thanks to be energy and brio that she brings to the part, Lisbeth Salender is more than just a cardboard cut out; she is a living, breathing cartoon monster/avenging angel. Daniel Craig, who has to play Batman to her Joker, Hislop to her Merton, Watson to her Sherlock is also very good - although, the more he tries to act schlubby (he wears glasses and occasionally gets out of breath), the more one is reminded that he is James Bond.

The actors, however, are faced with a thankless task. The primary problem with the film is its plot, its characters and its uneven tone. The narrative is pretty standard fare. But worse than that, the film readily resorts to the most cliched of conventions without even the good grace to let the audience in on the joke so that they can laugh at it. Struggling to make a character sufficiently sinister? Invoke the Nazis! Can't figure out how to resolve the film's central mystery? Have the killer needlessly reveal himself! Yet the tone is sombre and portentous throughout. (As side note, why is it when Hollywood directors decide to go 'dark', they equate the same with humorlessness? Stanley Kubrick, for one, Alfred Hitchcock, for another, understood that this is not the case, and to sometimes chilling effect).

The film ultimately drowns it in a sea of its own self-importance and, although some moments are more engaging than others, without a gripping story - solving a murder case that happened 20 years prior is not engaging, it's the plot for Old Tricks on the BBC for goodness sake - one's mind starts to wander. Great acting, great camera work, great sets and a director who knows exactly what he wants, cannot save a lumpen story and, unfortunately, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a case in - Lost in the Woods - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher, Daniel Craig, Roony Mara, Steig Larsson, Swedish, American, remake, film, review


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