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POST #500!!!!: Blacker Than The Blackest Black Times Infinity

Thursday, December 22, 2011

500 posts!!! Ma Ha Nei Bu, Eebowai!!!
That's a Book of Mormon reference! Look it up!

Anyway, to commemorate this, the 500th post on Films From the Supermassive Black Hole, here's a review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Last year, I named Let Me In my favorite movie of the year. And you can imagine the comments I got on that one. I stick by it though. I think Let Me In is a wonderful movie, and superior to Let The Right One In. Part of my sentiment came from the fact that I saw Let Me In before Let The Right One In, so the story, characters, and motifs were all new to me. And now, in 2011, I find myself in the exact same position with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I know, it's kind of unforgivable that a movie nut like myself hasn't seen the Swedish versions of Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy yet or read the books, and I don't really have an excuse; I'll get around to it eventually. But, this approach, I think, offers me a unique viewpoint from my contemporaries. Rather than judging the film based on how well it adapts the book, or how it holds up against the other version, I can just sit back and critique the film purely on it's own merits. And let me tell you, this American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is incredible!

Setting the standard of not to be messed with!

Following a deliciously demonic opening credit sequence, we are introduced to Mikael Blomkvist. He is a journalist for the Swedish magazine, Millennium. Following a lawsuit that leaves him disgraced and with no money, Blomkvist accepts an offer from one, Henrik Vanger, to investigate the decades old disappearance of Vanger's neice, Harriet. As he digs deep in the twisted and disturbing history of the Vanger's, Blomkvist soon finds himself in need of help. Enter Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant but odd computer hacker and investigator. She is down on her luck, as her state appointed guardian has just suffered a stroke, leaving her with a new guardian, who turns out to be a sadistic rapist. She agrees to help Blomkvist in his investigation, and together, they uncover a decades old trail of murder, misogyny and corruption, a trail that could claim the both them as it's next victims.

First and foremost, this movie is DARK! Like, seriously DARK! Like, claw at your face and crap your pants DARK! Everything about it, from the visuals, the score, and especially the subject matter, is drenched in foreboding, violence, and suspense. Steig Larsson's books are known for their controversial content, and this adaptation doesn't shy away from it at all. Instead, it elegantly lays out the investigation in ways that only the best detective thrillers can, in addition to including the images of murder, rape, and torture. Coming from the perspective of having never read the book or seen the Swedish film, I was left guessing until the very end who the culprit was and how far reaching his crimes were. While the reveal wasn't a complete shock, it really paid off, thanks in no small part to the slow burn build up. The script moves along at a consistent pace, keeping you on edge for the entire 2 hours and 38 minute run time. Yeah, this movie's epically long, but it sure as hell didn't feel it.

Now, I am aware that there was a campaign to have Noomi Rapace reprise her role as the titular girl for this one, and for all we know, she would have done a good job. I, however, am very happy she did not. Not because I think she would have done that much worse a job, it's because Rooney Mara does that much better a job. I've seen Mara in things before, from Nightmare on Elm Street to Fincher's own The Social Network, and in those she has played relatively innocent, teenage, women. Lisbeth Salander could not a be a bigger, nor more welcome, change of pace. Mara is friggin' incredible in the role, embodying all the traits that we assume of the character. The "don't take shit from anyone, especially men" mentality, the borderline sociopathy, and the overall strength and badassness that Larsson instilled in her. But she also finds the emotional side to Salander, imbuing the character with undertones of warmth that I honestly did not expect. When it comes to star making roles as of late, no one directs them better than Fincher, and no one has performed better than Mara.

Daniel Craig dials back the charm and piles on grizzle for Blomkvist. It is nice to see Craig in a role that requires a good deal more than fist-i-cuffs and rock hard abs, and he performs admirably. He displays a winning chemistry with Mara, doing his part in creating a believable partnership. Indeed, in a movie this cold, their relationship provides some of the few warm moments. On his own though, Craig is more than capable of carrying the film, and easily adds another compelling and well performed character to his resume.

I know you don't like the coffee, but come on! Work with me here!

Christopher Plummer does excellent work as Henrik Vanger, and Stellan Skarsgård does very well as Martin Vanger, whose motivations are never quite clear. Robin Wright does well in her small role as Blomkvist's co-editor, with whom he is having an affair.

Special mention must be given to Yorick van Wageningen as Bjurman, Salander's sadistic guardian, for he fearless performance. Anyone who's read the book or seen the Swedish version know what happens, and the scene is a skin crawling, traumatizing experience. Wageningen himself was so traumatized from shooting that scene, that he spent a whole day afterwards crying in his hotel room. Good on him!

Speaking of that one scene; it is only one in a veritable ocean of violence, torture, bloodshed, and other, incredibly disturbing elements. There's a torture that occurs about halfway through that is sooooo intense, it almost becomes unbearable. As Blomkvist and Salander continue to investigate, the things they begin to uncover are so heinous and stomach churning, you just have to applaud the characters for sticking with it. And the confrontation of murderer in the end is incredibly tense and violent. Also... well, let's just say that something awful happens to a certain domestic animal. The film's being touted as the feel bad movie of christmas, and by God does it earn that tagline.

And I would not have it any other way! As of late, David Fincher has been delving into more, dare I say, friendly territory. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was about as far from Fight Club as you could get while still having Brad Pitt as your star, and The Social Network is, to my knowledge, the only Fincher film that doesn't have a dead body somewhere. And I have no problem. I love The Social Network, and I like Benjamin Button. But my favorite Fincher films are the ones that delve into absurdly dark and violent territory, with the cream of the crop, in my opinion, being the ones that deal specifically with serial killers. Se7en and Zodiac are masterpieces of their time, and everything that made those movies great, from the unbearable sense of menace, to the cold and unfeeling color palette, to the bursts of quick but extremely brutal violence, is here, and better than ever. Like a certain blogging friend of mine, I have to wonder how the film would look in black and white.

And then there's the music. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, hot off their Oscar win for The Social Network, return, and their restrained, menacing sound is even more at home here than it was with Mark Zuckerberg. The music swells at all the right moments, adding atmosphere and tension to the scenes, but never overpowering them. It's in the background, never letting on what the audience should be feeling at any given moment. It's window dressing, but it's damn nice window dressing.

Also, the cover of Immigrant Song just will not get old!

I really friggin' loved this movie. This time of year is defined by dumb action movies,  and overly sentimental family fare. So, it's a real pleasure to see a film aimed hardcore at adults, especially one that looks poised to be a big hit. Thanks to the efforts of everyone involved, from Reznor and Ross's brilliant music, to Fincher's unique and memorable direction, to the performances, capped off by live wire, star making performance from Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is one film you should not miss. Feel bad movies shouldn't be this good!


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