The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Lisabeth Salander has Mikael Blomkvist in stitches.

(2011) Thriller (MGM/Columbia) Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Ulf Friberg, Julian Sands, Moa Garpendal, Embeth Davidtz. Directed by David Fincher

 

Sometimes a movie is so good when it is originally made that it seems virtually unthinkable that it be remade. Most of the time, those remakes fall far short of the mark. Once in awhile however, the remake comes out with a voice of its own that offers something to the original, enhances it even.

Purists were aghast when the hit Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was set for an American remake. There was some comfort in that Fincher, whose pedigree includes Se7en and Fight Club would be behind the camera but still there were shudders to think of what liberties and watering down Hollywood would do to the source material, the late Stieg Larsson’s novel (the first in a trilogy, all of which have been translated to film in Swede and all of them reviewed elsewhere on the site) which was grittier and more brutal than Hollywood tends to be.

Mikael Blomkvist (Craig), a crusading journalist and co-publisher of the left-leaning Millennium magazine has been convicted of libel against a wealthy Swedish venture capitalist named Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Friberg). The judgment against Blomkvist essentially empties out his savings and puts Millennium at risk of failing. His co-publisher and lover Erika Berger (Wright) confesses that the magazine may have three months of life left at best.

Wennerstrom isn’t the only one looking into Blomkvist. A security firm is hired by lawyer Dirch Frode (Berkoff) to investigate Blomkvist and the operative of the security firm, Lisbeth Salander (Mara) is asked to turn in her report in person, something that makes her uncomfortable. It turns out that her report is pretty thorough and the few things that are missing are best left that way.

Berkoff represents reclusive industrialist Henrik Vanger (Plummer) who wants to hire Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of his grand-niece Harriet (Garpendal) whom he believes was murdered by a member of his family 40 years earlier. There are certainly plenty of suspects; ex-Nazis who may not be as ex as they might have you believe; bitter, jealous and greedy, grasping money-grubbers, torturers, rapists and pederasts. Makes for quite a Christmas list.

At first Blomkvist is met with hostility from nearly everyone other than Martin (Skarsgard), Harriet’s brother who is skeptical that Blomkvist will find out anything new. Martin is running the family business now and not running it with much success. The once-vast Vanger empire is shrinking; once a great steel and railway manufacturer, they make most of their profits from fertilizer these days. Considering all the BS that is fed to Blomkvist, I’m quite certain he must have thought that appropriate.

As Blomkvist discovers that his e-mail was hacked by Salander (whose identity he doesn’t yet know), he is infuriated but begrudgingly realizes he needs a research assistant as he is making a little bit of progress but needs someone who can help him dig things up from corporate records at Vanger Industries. He meets Salander who proves to be skittish but intrigued; she isn’t very fond of men in general, having been raped brutally by her state-appointed guardian Nils Bjurman (van Wageningen). She did get her revenge however and proved herself someone not to mess with in the process.

Blomkvist and Salander turn out to make a formidable team and the lies and prevarications of 40 years of silence begin to slip away and they discover Harriet’s disappearance may be the gateway into a much more hideous secret – and that Harriet may not be the only victim. Worse yet, the killer is fully aware of their discoveries and has them both firmly in their sights.

When I found out about this remake, I was like most fans of the books and the Swedish versions somewhat troubled. I couldn’t see Hollywood allowing a movie to include scenes of graphic rape and torture, all of which were at the heart of the previous versions. I fully expected something sanitized and vapid. Then I heard that it was Fincher directing, and to be honest my reaction was “He’s probably the only director in Hollywood who could pull it off,” but I thought he might have difficulty getting the studio to allow him free rein to make the movie he wanted.

Surprisingly he did and we might have The Social Network to thank for it. The runaway commercial and critical success of that film has given Fincher greater clout than he’s had previously and might have allowed him to shut down studio interference in the project. Certainly the rape sequence and the torture sequence late in the film are as disturbing as those in the Swedish film and the book.

Craig was only able to do this film because of the delay in filming the latest James Bond. Here he plays a man unused to action, one more cerebral than some of the heroes he’s played lately and quite frankly Craig is up to the task. It is as different a role from Bond as you can get but equally as heroic, and if this franchise is successful will really put up Craig among the elite stars working today.

Mara is the breakout star here. One had to worry if she could fill the shoes of Noomi Rapace, who was so very central to the success of the Swedish trilogy.  Not only does Mara fill those shoes, she may well surpass them and will herself into stardom; this is a star-making performance to say the least. Salander is a tortured soul and certainly Mara captures that, but she’s also no longer willing to be a victim and the inner strength that makes Salander one of the most interesting heroines of all time is very much evident here as well. She may wear outlandish hair styles, provocative t-shirts and smoke far too much but she is also brilliant as well.

The movie is a bit longer than three hours long which was nearly more than my poor bladder could take – theater sodas are so darn large these days! It also fleshes out the Swedish film quite nicely, although the Swedish version ends with the death of the killer more or less with a brief coda showing a television report that covers the denouement between Blomkvist and Wennerstrom. The American version plays that out a bit further which frankly was unnecessary for my taste.

Still, this is some terrific filmmaking buttressed by some great performances, particularly in the case of Mara (Plummer and Skarsgard, both veteran actors, also deliver solid performances). It may be too intense for some, a bit too long for its own good but by and large this is a really good movie that doesn’t disgrace its source material in the least; if anything, it enhances it nicely and makes for a worthy addition to Larsson’s legacy.

REASONS TO GO: Mara does a star-making turn here. Based on one of the best-written thrillers in recent years. Great cast and production values.

REASONS TO STAY: The violence and sexuality can get very intense. Doesn’t measure up to the original in several critical areas. Overly long.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some very disturbing content here, including graphic rape and torture. There is also plenty of nudity and sexuality and a surfeit of naughty words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The piercings that Rooney Mara sports as Lisabeth Salander are real; none of them are cosmetically or digitally enhanced. Mara got them for the movie.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the empty vistas of Northern Sweden seem best on the big screen but it might not be a bad thing to see this at home in front of a roaring fire on a cold night.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Artist

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprangdes)


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Lisbeth Salander contemplates her disdain for society.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Aksel Morisse, Mikael Spraetz, Georgi Staykov, Annika Hallin, Jacob Ericksson, Sofia Ledarp, Mirja Turestedt, Niklas Falk, Hans Alfredson, Lennart Hjulstrom.  Directed by Daniel Alfredson

When caught in between a rock and a hard place, your choices are generally limited. No matter what you do, you’re going to get bruised and maybe even squashed. Your best choice of action might just be to attack the rock.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is in a hospital bed, a bullet lodged in her brain following the events in The Girl Who Played with Fire. She is recovering but now she is being charged with attempted murder. The police want very much to talk to her but Dr. Jonasson (Morisse), who is her physician, forbids anyone but her lawyer, Annika Giannini (Hallin) – who is also the sister of Millennium publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) – from visiting.  

In the meantime, Evert Gulberg (H. Alfredson) and Frederik Clinton (Hjulstrom), old comrades from The Section, a loose group of operatives in the Swedish Security Service who have operated on a quasi-legal basis, meet and decide that in order to protect their group, Salander will have to die, as well as her father, Alexander Salachenko (Staykov), who lies in a hospital bed a few rooms down from Salander, recovering from the wounds at her hands.

Gulberg, who’s dying of cancer, is elected to do it. He kills Salachenko in his bed, then tries to get to Salander’s room but Giannini, who was visiting her client, bars the door and Gulberg can’t get to her. He sits down on a nearby stool and shoots himself in the head.

Blomkvist is planning to publish an expose just before Salander’s trial in order to tell her side of the story and throw the light of day on the murky figures who have opposed her. The Section is none too pleased about either and put plans in motion to discredit Blomkvist and have Salander committed to the mental hospital where she spent much of her childhood after attempting to kill her father in an attempt to save her mother from spousal abuse (getting all of this so far?) for which Dr. Peter Teleborian (Rosendahl), a member of the Section and Salander’s former psychiatrist, has created a false report in order to do so.

With events spinning towards a reckoning and Salander’s half-brother Niedermann (Spreitz) loose in the countryside also wanting Salander dead, things are going to get a whole lot of ugly before they get resolved. The question is, will Blomkvist and Salander be alive to see things come to a close?

The third of the Millennium trilogy is in my opinion, the best one of the three and it is for somewhat odd reasons. Granted, Lisbeth Salander, the most compelling character, spends most of the movie locked up either in the hospital in jail but this I think makes her more vulnerable; her character is such a force of nature in many respects that a change is needed from the first two movies.

When Salander shows up in court in a Mohawk and leathers, it’s one of the more compelling courtroom confrontations ever. She is thumbing her nose at the system, refusing to testify in her own behalf and essentially telling the world “I’m not playing your game anymore.” It is a further example as to why this character is one of the most compelling to come on the scene in ages, and why Rapace is perfect to play her.

Some critics have excoriated the film for being too talky and they do have a point – there is a lot of conversation and little action here. That doesn’t mean it’s boring however – it is so well-written that you are interested in the conversation and given all the subplots bobbing and weaving their way around the film, it is a sucker punch to the gut when they eventually come together at the end.

The hulking blonde impervious-to-pain hitman is a staple of the Bond series but he is human here, as is the evil men pulling the strings behind the scenes and the psychiatrist in the courtroom. They are not caricatures and not figures, but flesh and blood people, greedy and reckless yes but understandable at least. They feel a part of our own world, as does Salander and Blomkvist.

The first movie in the trilogy is due to be released in a Hollywood remake directed by Oscar winner David Fincher this Christmas, with Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and newcomer Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. It is already being touted as an Oscar contender and could well be as successful here as it was in Scandinavia, the Swedish movies notwithstanding. However to those who are thinking of seeing that film, I urge you to find the three films made in Sweden and see them first.

WHY RENT THIS: The best of the bunch. Combines the taut thriller with a gripping courtroom drama. Rapace continues to be impressive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Once again a bit blander on the action than Americans are used to, although when it does come it’s pretty good.

FAMILY VALUES: The character of Gulberg is played by Hans Alfredson, father of the director.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Gulberg was played by the director’s father.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie was very likely a hit.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Super 8

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Man som hatar kvinnor)


The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo

This is not the girl you want to mess with.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Peter Andersson, Marika Lagercrantz, Ingvar Hirdwall, Bjorn Granath, Ewa Froling, Annika Hallin, Georgi Staykov, Tomas Kohler.  Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

My wife was often heard to say to my son (and she heard this herself often as a child) that the truth will find you out. It usually does, too – although sometimes it can take many years before it finally shows up at your door.

Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) is the publisher of Millennium, a left wing magazine in Sweden that goes after corporate and government officials mostly of the right wing variety. Blomkvist has just lost a libel trial against a wealthy Swedish industrialist and in six months time, will be sent to jail for it. He has temporarily stepped down from his position because of the scandal.

In the midst of this, he gets an intriguing offer from an aging Swedish industrialist. Henrik Vanger (Taube) is in his 80s, the patriarch of a wealthy Swedish family living in isolation on an island near Stockholm. 40 years previously, his niece Harriet (Froling) disappeared and is presumed dead. Nobody knows what happened to her although everyone assumes she was murdered. Who done it? Well there’s a whole family of suspects.

As it turns out, Mikael isn’t the only one investigating. Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) was hired to investigate Blomkvist and as she checks up on him, gets drawn in to his own investigation. She is one of Sweden’s best hackers and she has no trouble finding information Mikael can’t access. As time goes by, they discover that the Vangers have a couple of not-so-closet Nazis in the family tree. Salander turns out to have some dangerous secrets of her own and as Mikael closes in on the truth, nothing is what it seems – and it seems there may be something rotten in Sweden.

This is from the first book of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy which is wildly popular in Scandinavia and more recently worldwide. The motion pictures based on the trilogy are among the most popular ever in Sweden and are due to be remade by Hollywood, the first due out at Christmas directed by Oscar winner David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.

So should you see these before seeing the remakes? I say yes. This is a world class movie, right up there with the best of Hitchcock and De Palma. The bleak Swedish winter landscapes create the perfect mood, with just the right number of twists – not too many, not too few.

The leads couldn’t be more different. Nyqvist is understated as Blomkvist. He is capable and intellectual but not what you’d call the typical heroic sort. He is more heroic in his convictions and ideals rather than as a physical purveyor of derring-do. He is a decent man caught in a situation that is way over his head, one he’s not nearly mean enough to handle.

Rapace however delivers a star turn as Salander. Lisbeth is a bundle of contradictory characteristics. Quiet and withdrawn in many ways, she also dresses in outlandish punk hairstyle and leather which inevitably calls attention to herself. There is a rage in her that’s just below the surface, a rage that comes out brutally when she’s raped graphically early in the movie. It’s a brutal scene that’s not for the sensitive and is anything but sexual. There are those who are disturbed by it, but considering the importance of the event in the series, it is a necessary scene.

I like the mood the movie weaves; it is a mood that contains the comfort of Scandinavian homes, the overwhelming fog of uneasy dread, the air of mysteries buried deep in the Swedish soil. While there is an Agatha Christie-like vibe to the first act, this is definitely the work of a mind whose roots are deep in the land of the Northern climes, where winters are deep, bone-chilling and soul-sucking. One can almost hear “Finlandia” playing on the soundtrack.

Even more to the point, these are characters that are real and compelling. Even the evil neo-Nazi bastards aren’t caricatures; there is flesh on all of these bones.  Lisbeth Salander may be one of the most interesting heroines to come along since Ellen Ripley in Alien. She has demons deep within her, most of them barely hinted at. She’s not always an easy character to like, but she’s always an easy character to be fascinated by.

There are people who won’t see this because it’s subtitled. That’s a shame; those who love thrillers will love this one. It’s not the most original plot; it’s just done in an original style. There’s a realism to it that works, as well as an air of melancholy that makes it Swedish. It’s not Hitchcock, but as this style of movie goes, it’s as good as anything that’s come along in the last decade.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-acted, well-filmed and well-structured – nearly an ideal mystery-thriller.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is not really ground-breaking and the ending is not too hard to figure out.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of violence and some grisly images. There’s also a graphic rape, nudity, some sexual material and a bit of bad language (in Swedish but nonetheless).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Noomi Rapace got her eyebrow and nose pierced for the film. She also learned kickboxing and lost weight. Incidentally, the actress playing her mother in the movie is also her mom in real life.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a Vanger family tree that may prove helpful in keeping up with the plot. There’s also an interesting interview with Rapace in which she discusses how she came aboard.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $104.4M on a $13M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Girl Who Played With Fire

New Releases for the Week of May 7, 2010


Iron Man 2

You have been repulsed.

IRON MAN 2

(Paramount) Robert Downey Jr., Gwynneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Garry Shandling, Jon Favreau. Directed by Jon Favreau

The summer blockbuster kicks off with quite possibly the most anticipated release of the season. In the sequel to the 2008 smash, Tony Stark finds the U.S. government eager to take control of his amazing Iron Man armor away from him, control he isn’t willing to give away quite yet. To make matters even worse, a rival industrialist wants his own version of the armor and is willing to do anything to get it, including employ a Russian psychopath to take Stark out.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action violence and some language)

Babies

(Focus) Ponijao, Bayar, Mari, Hattie. This French documentary follows the lives of four babies from just before birth until their first birthday. The idea is to explore the cultural similarities and differences in our attitudes towards birth, children and child-rearing, from locations as diverse as a nomadic family on the Mongolian steppes, a technologically savvy family in modern Tokyo, an agrarian tribal family in Namibia and a new age family in San Francisco, who may be the most alien one in the bunch.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for cultural and maternal nudity throughout)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

(Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber. Based on a worldwide best seller (and soon to be made into a Hollywood version), this Swedish film is about a 40-year-old murder that is being investigated by a disgraced reporter and a computer hacker, who discover that the murder is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets of the corrupt Vanger family. This is meant to be the first film in a trilogy.

See the trailer, a clip and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: Not Rated (but recommended for Mature Audiences due to graphic violence, nudity, rape and language)