December 14, 2011 12:53pm EST
Let’s put the cards on the table: I have not read Steig Larsson’s best-selling “Millennium Trilogy” and therefore cannot comment on whether or not Columbia Pictures’ big-budget (American) adaptation of its first novel is a spot-on transfer of the shocking story or if Rooney Mara has lived up to the punk-goth-genius of an anti-heroine he created. This review is about director David Fincher’s craft and the dream cast he has assembled to make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo one of the most brutal and engrossing films of 2011.
Right from lustrous sexy title sequence evoking torturous S&M imagery to the ultra-cool Karen O/Trent Reznor rendition of Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” the Oscar-nominated filmmaker plunges his audience into a very specific experience. This is not to say that the story itself is notably inventive; Dragon Tattoo is more or less a standard serial killer thriller wherein a pair of investigators attempts to solve a decades-old murder that has ties to other gruesome mysteries and a wealthy Swedish family. It’s the sinister atmosphere and tone he cultivates using color music and lighting that makes this tale so unique and highly watchable in spite of the terrible events that occur throughout.
Perhaps most compelling though is its mixed bag of characters from different walks of life including Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) a recently disgraced financial journalist in need of an assignment Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgard) a yuppie-ish corporate tycoon charged with running the family business started by his uncle Henrik (Christopher Plummer) and Lisbeth Salander (Mara) the alpha-outsider and titular character of this eerie epic. All are emotionally scarred and the actors charged with portraying them go the darkest corners of their own souls to make them their own. Mara in particular must be praised for her ghoulish and extreme embodiment of Salander who suffers physical and emotional torment unlike anything we’ve seen in cinema this year. This more than her scene-stealing presence in Fincher’s The Social Network is no doubt her star-making turn; expect to see her name on a marquee soon. Though she and Craig at times struggle with the Swedish diction (the latter’s native British accent slips through more times than I can count) they more than make up for it with their physical personifications facial expressions etc. Yet it’s Skarsgard who is most impressive as the younger Vanger (he’s of Swedish descent) and delivers a stunning and chilling performance that will rival Mara’s in defining this film in years to come.
Still this is a Fincher film through and through and I cannot think of source material better suited for the maker of Se7en and Zodiac than this disturbing chronicle. Visually he’s given the opportunity to create damp decaying interiors familiar to fans of his work but contrasts them with beautifully filmed exteriors including some terrifying whiteout conditions that are sure to lower your body temperature. In terms of form he and editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall effectively lay out dual character arcs (that of Salander and Blomkvist) that run parallel but connect in uncanny ways until their eventual convergence resulting in a highly literary feel. Both Baxter and Wall won Oscars for cutting The Social Network and I’m afraid that their penchant for quick transitions between shots has a decreasing effect on the terror; for a film that so closely treads the line between horror-thriller I felt that letting certain shots play out a bit longer could’ve had more dreadful results.
Still in no way I am saying that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t come with its share of nail-biting suspense. Fincher takes tense situations to the next level using unconventional camera angles and Reznor’s unnerving score making many sequences in the movie hard to watch. It’s a tiring but entertaining task; one that is a pleasure and pain to endure but the auteur’s masterful methods are quite magical even when being used to tell a story as menacing as this one.
There’s nothing else playing at the multiplex this season that’s quite like it and should you choose to view it you’ll carry its shocks with you for days after.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Set against the background of 1920s Spain where repression and political upheaval enveloped a nation on the verge of civil war Little Ashes focuses on the emergence of three young artists Salvador Dali Luis Bunuel and Federico Garcia Lorca. When Dali arrives fresh-faced at the University at the age of 18 Bunuel and Lorca welcome him into their decadent group and the trio become fast friends. Their budding friendship is soon threatened however when Dali and Lorca develop a special bond in which their sexual and artistic explorations collide with personal ambition love of country and their own passion for each other.
WHO’S IN IT?
In a performance shot before Twilight made him an international star that women swoon over Robert Pattinson may surprise fans with his spot-on portrayal of the sexually confused over-the-top artist Salvador Dali. With his signature handlebar mustache and a serviceable Spanish accent Pattinson captures the essence of the young Dali convincing in his depiction of the artistic tirades bisexual encounters and egotistical conceit that informed the great painter’s early years. As the object of Dali’s early affections newcomer Javier Beltran is intriguing as the fatalistic and seductive playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca while Matthew McNulty is quite fine as Bunuel who himself would go on to become one of Spain’s - and the world’s - most important film directors. As Magdalena and Gala the women who try to tame these artists Marina Gatell and Arly Jover are beautiful and effective even though their roles are really sideshows to the film’s true focus and intentions.
Despite the low budget Madrid in the '20s is nicely suggested and meticulously recreated. Director Paul Morrison has a nice feel for the period and a good eye for casting these tricky roles.
The film tries to bite off more than it can chew covering too much of the era and coming off as a mere overview of these times and key relationships. The idea of seeing the artists as young men is good but not enough time is taken to really show what they are made of. The artistic fire and sexual freedom that must have been prevalent then is glossed over and not totally convincing. This probably would have worked better as a TV mini-series.
BUT SHOULD TWILIGHT FANS LINE UP?
As his first film post-Twilight it won’t matter. Robert Pattinson may be de-fanged here but this independent art-house item won’t be around long enough to become a blip on his new fandom’s radar.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
This small flick probably won’t find its way to the local mall. Considering the hard “R” nature of the material Pattinson’s adoring young flock will probably have to wait to see it on DVD anyway.