Skip to main content

on thin ice

movie review :: the girl with the dragon tattoo

i'm not normally a consumer of popular literature. i haven't read "50 shades of grey" and i've never managed to slog through a stephen king novel [shorter works, yes, but i just haven't been able to stick it out through the longer ones], but i do occasionally dip my toes in the popular pool when it comes to a decent mystery. i gave into temptation and read "the davinci code" only to be left feeling like i'd just had my intelligence insulted. so it's been a while since i've given best-sellers a chance.

that's probably why i came to stieg larsson's "the girl with the dragon tattoo" by way of the original swedish made-for-television film. [in sweden, made-for-television doesn't have the same stigma that it does here. think of it as you would a showtime or hbo original.] having seen it and having guessed that there was detail in the book that didn't get captured in the film, i decided to give the book a try and also to watch- with some trepidation- the american version of the film that was released last year. ostensibly, that's what i'm reviewing, although i hope you'll indulge me if i talk about all three variants as i do.

although american remakes of films from other countries tend to make me nervous, i am a huge fan of director david fincher. he's created some of my favourite films of the last twenty years and the fact that he was at the helm gave me some hope that he'd treat the original with the respect it deserves. i was also happy to find out that although this version was being made by americans, the story itself wasn't being "americanized"; it kept its swedish setting. so there are definitely things to recommend it.

unfortunately, as soon as the film started, my trepidations returned in force. the credit sequence looks like the audition tape of an aspiring cg artist, all flash for its own sake, set to a cheesy cover of led zeppelin's "immigrant song". that musical choice is especially poor, since it immediately pushes thoughts of lame copies right to the surface. even more unfortunately, it's quite apt.



now, i get the fact that films and novels are very different. stieg larsson's book is almost nine hundred pages long and the central mystery actually occupies less than half of those. the bulk of the action around the mystery actually takes place over only about two hundred and fifty pages. there's a lot going on, a lot of plots and subplots and in order to come up with a film that's watchable, editorial choices need to be made. the storyline needs to be clearly focused so that it can be adequately resolved within the viewing time of the picture.

the swedish original certainly made editorial choices, cutting out most of the intrigue surrounding the central character, journalist mikael blomqvist and his magazine "millennium", so that the story is truly about the mysterious disappearance of harriet vanger, niece and presumed heir of wealthy industrialist henrik vanger, in the mid-sixties. the american version makes very similar editorial choices, but it seems to cut even deeper. often, it unfolds like a "coles notes" version not of the book, but of the swedish movie, copying some of the plot devices that were altered from the book because they made the story more exciting. while that might improve the pacing, it makes the mystery a little anemic. by cutting back on the peripheral characters in the eccentric, sometimes detestable vanger clan and speeding up the process by which clues are found, the mystery becomes a lot less mysterious.

the writers also make some editorial choices regarding the characters, particularly the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo, hacker and problem child lisabeth salander. in the book, she borders on unlikeable- overly rigid and judgmental [she calls a molestation victim a "fucking bitch" for not taking a stand against her attacker] and completely self-involved [albeit for reasons not entirely within her control]. she's difficult. the swedish film retains a great deal of this, but alters the ending to make her appear to be more remote and in control of herself.

the american film stays true to the ending, but it also takes care to soften salander's character. whereas in the book, she is a perplexing mix of angry young woman with body issues, a mathematical genius and a traditional hero, rescuing her lover and taking care of him. in the american movie, while she retains a punk edge, she is inexplicably softened, asking for direction/ permission where the original story has her taking command. rooney mara certainly turns in a solid performance, but she doesn't hold a candle to swedish actress noomi rapace in the first film version. the lack of affect that everyone notices about salander is simply not there in her american interpretation. she seems much too... normal.

daniel craig is solid in the role of mikael blomqvist. christopher plummer and stellan skarsgard are solid in supporting roles as the co-heads of the fading vanger empire. but it's not for nothing that the book was retitled- it's original name was "men who hate women". lisabeth salander earned her place as the focus of attention and the story sinks or soars with her character. in this case, it simply becomes stuck. the plot is not given enough flesh to really maintain suspense, but the characterisation isn't developed enough to make up for it.

in its defence, the film looks stunning. all of david fincher's films look stunning. the difference is that most of them have a much more to recommend them than just their looks.

the strange thing is that i can't pinpoint exactly how the film ends up stalling. fincher can certainly handle a complicated story- witness "zodiac". he can handle a strong, non-traditional female role- witness "alien 3". he can handle a tense mystery- witness "seven". but somehow, this one just can't get its motor running and i found myself waiting for the magical "fincher-ness" to kick in. it never really does.

the book, while not a classic of western literature, is a fun read. the 2009 swedish film is an excellent interpretation. and the american version is "lite".

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

so hip it hurts

there aren't too many artists who stand out as being iconically canadian. it's too easy to mistake us for some other people, mostly americans, who are, let's be honest, pretty similar in a lot of ways. [this is the bit where i apologise for avril lavigne, justin bieber and drake.] the guess who/ bachman turner overdrive held sway over an earlier generation, and musicians and those who appreciate technical proficiency will speak of rush like they are gods, but last night the country said goodbye to perhaps the most canadian of canadian bands, the tragically hip.

for those of you not familiar with that name, the hip emerged in the mid-to-late eighties, among a slew of canadian bands [54-40, the northern pikes, the pursuit of happiness, the grapes of wrath] that balanced on the line between mainstream and alternative rock. all of them played accessible guitar-based music with none of the bombast of seventies dinosaurs, but equally with no hint of the drug-fueled anger that w…

shut up

general reaction seems to be that last night's vice presidential debate was close to a draw, with a slight edge going to mike pence [other than among cnn's panel of independent voters, who overwhelmingly chose tim kaine as the winner]. i feel that's an accurate assessment, although it's largely a question of personal preference. pence absolutely projected the stoic, unflappable, unwavering image that many americans [not just republicans, either] seem to like and equate with strength. for my part, i prefer someone who's a little more mercurial, someone who's able to gets excited about ideas and who's able to expand on them, not just repeat talking points.

so, from my point of view, both vice presidential candidates were pretty disappointing. i found that kaine had a fantastic command of facts and history- he knew pence's voting record better than pence knew his and possibly better than pence knew his own. his opening answers were so smoothly delivered i…

mental health mondays :: parabnormal?

for north america and parts of europe, halloween marked the apex of spooky events, where the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its most diaphanous. but if you're a very traditional roman catholic, you'll know that the 31 of october is merely the beginning, and that the entire month that follows is dedicated to remembering and praying for the dead, specifically for those whose souls are trapped in purgatory. if you listen to dante, purgatory isn't especially pleasant. sure, there's the possibility that you'll end up working off your debt to celestial society, but until then, you get to endure things like having your goddamned eyes sewn shut with iron wire. [much like condo developments, it gets better the higher the floor you live on.]

however, the more common view of purgatory among catholics is that the souls relegated there can't do anything to help themselves, and are reliant on the prayers of their living relatives and loved ones to …