THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC.

He is a MLB columnist for Bloguin's The Outside Corner and editor at The AP Party. Previously, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report, and has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, SB Nation and MLive.com. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

Someday, he'll get around to writing that novel.

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Friday
Dec302011

Movie review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

My friend A. has been on me for years to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, along with the other two books in Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy. But in typical fashion for me, I never got around to them, despite owning the first two books. (This should be a entire blog entry on its own, but I've had trouble reading fiction over the last five years or so. It's a problem I'm working on.)

I've also never watched the Swedish film adaptations of the "Dragon Tattoo" books. Although I'm familiar enough with Noomi Rapace's portrayal of the title character to know why she's suddenly appearing in blockbuster American films. And I recognized the actor who played Mikael Blomkvist, the story's other protagonist, in the new "Mission: Impossible" movie. 

At various points throughout this year, I intended to read the books and/or watch the Swedish films before seeing David Fincher's American version. Adaptations are kind of a pet fascination of mine, and I'm very curious how the material is approached differently. But I continued to procrastinate (i.e., goof around online, watch TV and read other — nonfiction — books), leaving myself little time to check out the source material. 

All of this is a long way of telling you that I went into this movie fresh, as Frank Costanza would say. I had no idea if Fincher (and screenwriter Steve Zallian) were faithful to the book. I had no opinion on whether or not the Swedish movies were better. I couldn't tell you if Rapace is a better Lisbeth Salander than Rooney Mara. Is the tendency by Daniel Craig's Blomkvist to hang his glasses off his ear and dangle them below his jaw something from the book or a quirk Craig came up with himself? Dunno.

What I do know is that I love Fincher's movies. (Well, not all of them. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a snoozer.) And this is such a great match of filmmaker and material that it's almost like it was meant to happen.

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The story and characters are very dark, and so is this movie with its sharp blue and slight greenish tones and inky black primary colors. (And nothing is more "inky black" than the rocking title sequence. I've read several people say it could be the opening to a Bond film. I just thought it was the best music video — for Trent Reznor and Karen O's cover of "Immigrant Song" — I'd seen in a long time.) Every frame of this thing might as well have a "FINCHER" watermark on it. 

I've heard the criticism that Fincher is almost cycling through his greatest hits here, and maybe there's something to that. Obviously, you have the serial killer storyline, which echoes Seven and Zodiac. And I got a distinct Seven vibe from the guest house Blomkvist stays in, along with the library where Salander does some research. But I think that's largely a coincidence. This stands on its own among Fincher's other films.

The story takes a while to get going, and though it's nice to see the characters and their arcs get established, I felt like Blomkvist and Salander needed to team up sooner. That might be a product of the source material.

Once the two get together, the action probably does throttle down a bit as we mostly watch research through documents and photos on computer screens. But Fincher doesn't let it drag out like he did with Zodiac and "Benjamin Button." The mystery picks up momentum as they get closer to finding the killer they've been hired to discover, so it doesn't feel boring at all. 

However, the pace feels a bit off, especially because the movie keeps going after the primary plot is resolved. When it seems like the credits should roll, the story continues to resolve a subplot involving Blomkvist and his fall from journalistic grace.

I assume this is meant to establish a bridge to the subsequent stories in the trilogy. Those seem much more fun in superhero movies when Batman is handed a Joker card or Samuel L. Jackson shows up at Robert Downey Jr's house to talk about "the Avengers initiative." 

I do have one big pet peeve with the film's casting, however. Not with anyone chosen to play a particular part. All the actors are cast wonderfully. But when one relatively well-known actor stands out among lesser known castmates in a collection of suspects, it's a safe guess that the more famous guy will turn out to be more important.

As Roger Ebert once wrote, casting is never accidental. Unfortunately, it tips off the mystery quite a bit, in this case. 

But the most important casting is Mara as Salander. Again, I have no point of comparison, but I thought she did an outstanding job. Salander is all hard edges with little social tact when we first meet her. It's her armor against a world and life that's treated her poorly. (She wears a hilarious t-shirt when first meeting Blomkvist that sums up her worldview nicely.) That's forged a capacity for fierce vengeance, but also a strong sense of right and wrong I can see why she's such a popular character.

As the story progresses, and Salander takes a liking to Blomkvist — perhaps realizing that people aren't so bad or that some have been shit on too — she softens. Not a lot, but enough to notice. And you see that subtle transition in Mara's face. 

I actually wanted more of Salander in the movie. It's far more interesting when she's on screen. And I look forward to seeing her in future sequels (though I've been told that she spends a lot of time in a hospital bed later on, which sounds like a major buzzkill). 

I just hope Fincher stays along for the ride. I can't imagine these movies would be as compelling without him. 

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Reader Comments (1)

I've seen the movie of this one. it's an action filled movie..-Sarah-

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCheap Poster Printing

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