Ok, you know I am referring to David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s immensely popular 2005 crime novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Actually the original Swedish title of the book is Män som hatar kvinnor, which translates to ‘Men who hate women’. For those of who you have not read the book, nor watched either the original Swedish movie adaptation or Fincher’s version, that should tell you all you really need to know about the storyline.
Larsson’s book is an excellently written page-turner which exposes the dark underbelly of Swedish society, encompassing incest, prostitution, murder, the role of government in social care, corruption in big business and a general attitude of misogyny. Now surely, these descriptions can apply to many societies (India comes to mind), but also it would be unfair to paint an entire population on the basis of one story. However, the fact that Larsson was a journalist does keep you thinking “this sort of thing must be really happening in Sweden” while reading the book.
I read the trilogy a year ago – actually I read Part 2 first, for some reason – and I literally couldn’t put them down, violence and disturbing subject matter notwithstanding. In the books, the two protagonists, the journalist Mikael Blomqvist and the antisocial hacker Lisbeth Salander get almost equal ‘page time’. Once the books were re-titled in English and became global hits, the focus of public attention shifted to Lisbeth Salander…many reviews tacked on ‘lesbian’ in their description of Salander, although in fact, that aspect of her personality, in my opinion, isn’t that significant a part of the story.
In the 2009 Swedish film adaptation, Salander was played by Noomi Rapace, the charismatic Swedish actress who has used the role to launch a Hollywood career – she was the gypsy girl in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and will be seen later this summer in Ridley Scott’s scifi epic Prometheus. In my view, Rapace’s interpretation of the character has now become an integral part of Larsson’s creation, just as much as Daniel Radcliffe has become the visual bookmark for Harry Potter’s character. At least, I believe, this would be the case for European audiences who have seen the movie. Of course, because of the marketing muscle and global footprint that Hollywood enjoys, it is most likely David Fincher’s version that will eventually get more viewers than the Swedish version. But even so, there is no doubt that Rapace’s performance has created the template for Rooney Mara’s interpretation of Salander’s character and for any other movie adaptations that may follow.
Which brings me to the title of this posting. David Fincher’s version seems to give more screen time and importance to Daniel Craig and Mikael Blomqvist’s character. One would argue that this is the sensible thing to do when you have the current James Bond acting the lead male role in your movie. But even so, I really felt that Salander’s character was relegated to a supporting role in the film, not helped by the fact that Rooney Mara, in spite of being is a very good actress, just doesn’t have the screen presence to compete with Mr. Craig. And that strange mini-fringe (or baby bangs, as they are referred to in the US) hairstyle actually makes her look a bit comical. Her famous dragon and wasp tattoos, which are such an integral part of her character in the books are only incidental in the movie.
David Fincher is considered to be one of the great modern American directors. His directing style is effortless and calls very little attention to itself, relying instead of great camera work and seamless editing. However, the subject matter he picks for his movies usually have limited emotional scope and therefore his films end up feeling a bit impersonal. The one big exception is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I think will be considered one of the masterpieces of his career. But all the rest, like The Social Network, The Panic Room, Zodiac and The Game tend to fade away from memory soon after viewing and rarely pop up in ‘my favourite movie of all time’ lists.
I think that will end up being the case with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as well. As usual with a Hollywood production of this pedigree, the production design, cinematography, locations and editing are outstanding. The list of supporting actors is impressive, as are their respective performances. Special call out for Christopher Plummer who plays the ageing billionaire Henrik Vangar, the man who hires journalist Mikael Blomqvist to solve a 40 year old mystery. Mr. Plummer, who most of us know as Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music, is having some of the best years of his professional life in his ’80s. He won the Oscar this year for his portrayal of a gay dad in Beginners and was nominated for his portrayal of Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station a couple of years ago. Another great performance was by Joely Richardson, with her limited screen time as one of the members of the vast and weird Vangar family.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie, but would still rate it below the book and the Swedish film adaptation.