Sunday, 22 January 2012

“It’s almost convincing…”

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: directed by David Fincher; written by Steven Zaillian 

Ummm, January and all those films to see…
I tend to churn out those 99 word non-reviews for films I have nothing particularly significant say anything on. Of course, this belies the fact I don’t necessarily have anything particularly significant to say in the full length reviews I churn out – but I’m already digressing from the main thread here, which is – I would love to toss out actual 1000 word thoughts on the last dozen or so films I’ve seen recently, but for the fact that words at my disposal (struggling to string two of them together), and neither is time for that matter. So truncated thoughts ahead.*

Due to my deliberate blindness in terms of pre-release information, specifically trailers I did not know much of any of these films I’ve seen recently (Sleeping Beauty, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse, The Descendants) going in; even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I knew the most about – but still not much. Honestly, all I knew was that it had anal rape, a goth looking lead and Robin Wright in what Jose said was a rich role. I love him, but he lied – but, more on that later. I know enough about the film to know that it’s based on a trilogy, and the sort of literary mystery which as presented by Zaillan’s screenplay wears it literary roots in a rather obvious showing itself to be more of a John Grisham than a John le Carre, which is not a specific criticism because I happen to like John Grisham. And, although it’s not a well-known position of mine, I think the world needs more well-made genuine mystery films. Pleasure in the simple things, and whatnot, right?
And, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is proficiently made. Even though I adore two of his films (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and greatly like and appreciate two more (Se7en and The Social Network) I don’t consider myself as someone enthralled by David Fincher’s abilities specifically – as a director. But, he’s notorious for meticulous control of the aesthetics in his film, and the sort of thin but pliable mystery which grounds the film’s narrative (narratives?) necessitates a director with deliberate visual flair. Because, narrative wise The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo unfolds with less truly seismic moments in its plotting than a lesser Agatha Christie works, which I would assume is something which the sequels make good on but is the slightest bit unfulfilling because cinema is not television and even continuous narratives in a series are better off for being self-contained.

Or, maybe I’m looking at it from the wrong angle because I feel like everything it establishes is so small scale. Again, not a criticism, but there’s a certain…not exactly whimsy, but tongue-in-cheek silliness (which would admittedly come across better in the page, assuming it’s found in the novels) which I feel the film should have but doesn’t and that’s probably because Fincher’s proficiency with his very serious aesthetics make it something of a humourless which I assume (again, with the assumptions. I KNOW,) the book digs into. Because, really, a Nazi villain, tape rape, then violent retribution, a more than subtly shoehorned in romance? There’s the slightest of dichotomies in the fact that Fincher’s presentation of it is so lofty – or maybe that’s part of the joke and I’m missing it? What we’re presented with, though, isn’t quite a mystery – the conclusion to it all would be a slap in the face if it were, neither is it a love story because said romance between our de facto hero and heroine feels particularly disingenuous.
Taking into account, again, the dearth of actual information I had about the film I’d anticipated Lisbeth Salander to exist as the voluble protagonist keeping it all together, but it doesn’t come off in that way for me. Much has been said about potential Oscar nominee Rooney Mara’s work as the Salander, and it’s as nearly effective a performance as I can imagine playing someone who’s less “person” and more “character” seemingly containing all the brash sensibilities that a prototypical bad-ass heroine would comprise. Mara’s just a bit too effortful for me to take her performance in earnest, which I’m sure is a crutch of this type of role to begin with. Still, I have to say it’s a bit jarring to coalesce her occasionally mannered line-readings with her character’s spontaneity. Craig fares better, with less to work with. Count me in the, I assume, stark minority who would have preferred a character study on the events leading up to the film’s opening. Craig, and a luminous but often absent Robin Wright lend credence to their characters that the film doesn’t seem wholly interested in cultivating.

BUT, this is not a character and I don’t think it’s meant to be and the team-up half way through of Lisbeth and Mikael is a necessity for the “mystery” to be solved and though it’s hokey wrap-up is more than a little exasperating – and not particularly “surprising” it’s well orchestrated in the basest of ways. And, considering how many films managed to lose my love this year for being so excellent but for the way that they were presented it’s gratifying to see how Fincher makes his case for this fairly middling escapade and turns it into something that seems worthy of giving significant thought to, even when on perusal it all seems to be startlingly…empty.


* Honestly, this started off as a two-paragraph bit piece and turned into…this. The tone’s off in regards to my usual reviews, but good lord this is long. Ummm, apologies?


Jose Solís said...

As you know I haven't seen the movie but I consider myself quite versed in the Dragon Tattoo lore LOL, so I found it quite curious that you mentioned the film's seriousness and alluded to its literary source. The books are by no means excellent literature, they are merely addictive and in fact they take themselves so seriously that entire pages are dedicated to chronicling the exact model of Lisbeth's new computer. I always thought this meticulousness was stupid but it also makes sense to have Fincher do something about it. I'll have my lawyer call you for that accusation too...

Nick Prigge said...

I would agree that Lisbeth Salander is more of a character than a person, but I also felt that Mara herself made Lisbeth into a person rather than just a character, which is why I continually champion her work. She defies the writing. Which really is the film's biggest problem, and you hit on that with this fantastic line...

"..unfolds with less truly seismic moments in its plotting than a lesser Agatha Christie.." Nice.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

jose fincher doesn't really DO anything about it, though. he just sort of augments it with his fincicky meticulousness. still, i liked it fairly much - so it's more of an observance than a straight criticism.

nick and, i feel like zaillian tries because his structure is good, and the dialogue is fine but the root of the mystery and the story are both a bit silly, a kitschy kind of way.