THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO: The Remake with the English Accents

25 12 2011

Surprise is a tricky commodity when it comes to movies, because it’s so subjective. What surprises me may not surprise you, which is why a Spielblog review of David Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a tough one to write this most Christmasy Christmas morn. I haven’t read the books by Stieg Larsson, but I’ve seen the Swedish films, and I’m not alone in my awareness of their unlikely hit status. At this point, if you aren’t somewhat familiar with the DRAGON TATTOO craze, it’s clear you haven’t set foot in an airport bookstore recently. Or an H&M for that matter. But, if you have managed to avoid spoilers this long and your Swedish is rusty, then by all means this English language version is worth watching.

H&M's officially licensed 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' clothing line. Because evidently, that's acceptable.

Fincher is a stylist over all, so one thing that’s not surprising is that his film looks terrific. Visually it’s dark and intricate in a way the Swedish version isn’t. (The credits sequence set to a Karen O. version of ‘Immigrant Song’ is particularly sick.) But structurally, Fincher’s version hews close to the Swedish film, as it does to the source material – so in spite of its impeccable surfaces, this film’s two-and-a-half hour runtime passed slowly for me. Maybe it won’t for you. Daniel Craig fills the thankless role of Mikael Blomkvist, the disgraced journalist who’s hired to research a decades-old disappearance. But there’s a reason this ain’t called “The Guy who Knows the Chick with that Freaky Tattoo.” Blomkvist’s better half, goth-chick-hacker Lisbeth Salander is the star, and in that role Rooney Mara is slightly more effective than Noomi Rapace was, if only because Mara looks child-like in a way Rapace doesn’t – which makes her brutalization and vengeance that much more disturbing.

Most surprising about the massive appeal of this story is that its most unique and memorable portion, Lisbeth Salander’s self-contained revenge tale, has run its course well before the film and book is through. It’s a bizarrely compelling subplot, and once it’s done, the conclusion of the bigger procedural mystery is much less interesting by comparison. Once that’s all been wrapped up in Fincher’s version, there are still almost fifteen minutes to go, some of which involve characters watching television news to learn about how other plot elements have resolved themselves elsewhere. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, this version and all others, hits its high point in the second act, not the third. That much, Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillain didn’t fix. But if they had, I’d have been surprised.

… Oh, and P.S., the American version contains a HUGE plot hole – which is the one big difference from the novel & Swedish version. Spoiler warning!


Ah, shit: Sam Mendes to direct the next James Bond movie

6 01 2010

From today’s Hollywood Reporter:

To be a James Bond fan is to live in disappointment. Every two years, you’re teased with a sensational trailer featuring a couple big explosions and/or breasts, you get yourself all worked up by either or both, and when the newest Bond film finally hits, you’re there opening night… only to emerge two hours later, bludgeoned by a European cheese platter with nothing to recommend it but the reprise of that jangly, addictive theme song. Nothing, it seemed, no gadget nor titty, could ever deliver the pure high of the Sean Connery years…

Or so it was until 2006, when the bar was raised high again by the Bond series’  finest reinvention, CASINO ROYALE, a film that only gets better on repeated viewing. Director Martin Campell, master of classy action, carried off the series’ trademark chase sequences with flawless pacing and spatial orientation. In his first outing as 007, Daniel Craig’s grave confidence wasn’t just fun to watch, it felt instantly earned. More than anything though, what worked about CASINO ROYALE was the relationship between Bond and Vesper Lynd, played by the magnificent Eva Green. If anything, the final act which on first viewing seemed indulgent with its extended, swooning romance (not exactly 007’s trademark,) now seems irreducible. To cut a second of it would ruin everything.

Bond. James Bond.

Craig’s second outing, the 22nd Bond film QUANTUM OF SOLACE, is not much of a movie – though compared to the nadir of the series, it’s also quite acceptable. Director Marc Forster was seemingly so intimidated by the perfection of Campbell’s action sequences that he chopped up his own nearly beyond recognition – similar to what Christopher Nolan has done in his Batman series. In Forster’s hands, SOLACE contained some highs (the opening teaser’s boffo, I SAID BOFFO, and the dangling climax to the Siena sequence is tense and excellent,) but the finale held no surprises, and never realized the potential of the film’s first moments.

Weak. Real weak.

Like bringing Nolan onto Batman, putting Forster on Bond was an attempt to add some prestige to a formulaic genre piece. And now, Sam Mendes will have his shot to make BOND 23 all arty and shit; an assignment that certainly recalls Forster and Nolan in spirit – but still sends a shiver down this fan’s spine. And that’s not just because Mendes hasn’t directed a great film since his first one; it’s because what Bond films depend on isn’t an injection of style or an outsider sensibility. A good Bond requires a familiarity with Bond over all else. Almost all the best films of the Bond series weren’t the first Bond film made by their director. Terence Young shot DR. NO before FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Guy Hamilton had GOLDFINGER before LIVE AND LET DIE, and before hitting gold with CASINO ROYALE, Martin Campbell had already directed GOLDENEYE.

More than an experienced helmer even, good Bond calls for a screenplay that walks the tightrope between delivering what’s expected, and delivering a jolt. Mendes, unfortunately, has proven several times over that he’s drawn to material that allows him room for style – even when substance is lacking. (JARHEAD, anyone? Didn’t think so…) Dare, friends, to imagine Mendes’ over-stylized, down-beat Donmar take on spy-jinx  – and how far off balance that could throw the Bond tightrope act. If the past decade since Mendes won his Oscar have made anything clear, it’s that Alan Ball’s screenplay for AMERICAN BEAUTY was its great asset. Not Kevin Spacey, not that marimba-heavy score or that deeply profound Ralph’s bag – and not Mendes, the would-be wunderkind who appeared to knock one out of the park on his first at bat… turns out, in retrospect, he really didn’t.

The good news is that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, co-writers of CASINO ROYALE, (with ex-scientologist Paul Haggis) are working on BOND 23 – albeit with a nip and tuck this time by Peter Morgan, who recently said that this film will be “shocking.” Shocking like REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, Peter? Guuuhhh. But hey, maybe Purvis and Wade will rise again to the occasion, and maybe, just maybe, Mendes won’t get in their way… Anything’s possible. Guy Hamilton, who directed the series capstone GOLDFINGER, also directed THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, one of its most craptastic. Anything’s possible – even, I suppose, a good James Bond movie by Sam Mendes. I’ll believe it when I see it… And needless to say, I’ll be there opening night, ready to be let down.