Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Alternate Title:  A Moose once Bit my Sister

One sentence synopsis:  A convicted libelist and an anti-social hacker try to solve a murder mystery in rural Sweden.

Things Havoc liked:   Normally in these reviews, I start by going on at length about the actors I love in the films. And I could easily do that here, as this movie has, among others, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Christopher Plumber, all three of whom are awesome, badass actors whom I love to watch, and do a wonderful job here. But I'm not going to extol these men as much as I normally would, because, before anything else, we need to talk about Rooney Mara.

Who is Rooney Mara? She is the actress who plays Lisbeth Salander, the aforementioned Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and she is, without question or doubt, the best thing in an amazing movie. It is rare, in this day and age, to see a character in a film that actually feels unique, different from everything else that one has seen before. Most characters, even excellent ones, are related to others that have existed before them. This is not a bad thing, it simply is. I however have never met anyone in any movie quite like Lisbeth Salander before, and most of that, I think, is due to Rooney Mara's acting.

Lisbeth is basically a walking case of Asperger's syndrome, but not in any way you've seen before. Anti-social she is, no doubt, to the point of misanthropy, strange of look and manner to the point of repulsion, yet also possessed of what appears to be an almost eidetic memory (though this is never elaborated upon), as well as an almost monomaniacal capacity for concentration and focus. Though there is clearly something 'wrong' with her, never is she portrayed as some kind of Rain Man savant genius, merely as a woman whose disinterest in everything besides her current task is total and absolute. Yet lest she appear to be a simple bitter librarian type, she is given full opportunity to be anything but. Sexual and dispassionate, violent and yet completely controlled, she is an incredibly interesting person to spend several hours watching. It helps of course that she gets several scenes wherein she gets to be completely, balls-to-the-wall, awesome in inflicting terrible retribution against characters who manifestly deserve it. Really, the only person she ever forms any sort of bond with in the entire film, is Daniel Craig's character, a (much more normal) journalist currently in disgrace who hires her to help him solve a set of serial murders and a disappearance that dates back forty years. He seems to get something out of her by simply taking her as he finds her, a refreshing approach in a movie landscape where most films would have him try to "fix" her somehow.

I could go on about this character at length, but I must speak to the rest of the film, which is violent, brutal, and yet tremendously watchable despite (or because of) it. Craig and Mara's characters are hired to research the disappearance of the niece of an industrial magnate, whose family owns a private island in the north of Sweden, upon which all of them live in separate mansions. The landscapes are cold and stark, suiting the mood of the film, and the settings are almost sterile in a very (forgive me) Ikea way, punctuated periodically by interruptions of terrible brutality. Rape, incest, murder, torture, psychopathy, and other such fun topics enter into the film, yet it never turns into a slasher movie or a gorefest, because the overall level of production and acting is so high, and the bloody stuff is intercut with sequences of mystery and research, covering great amounts of detail and conveying vast bodies of information to the audience, all done without ham-fistedness or "designated exposition".

Additionally, though this movie is not short (more than two and a half hours), the pacing in it is lightning fast. It moves with speed and poise from scene to scene, never giving us a chance to get bored or to guess what might be coming. Enormous amounts of stuff happen in this movie, be it simple plot, or complex character development. Never however does it feel rushed, never does it feel like we're being hustled along without time to determine what's going on, nor do any of the characters feel like they were shortchanged for time and not given room to grow and develop. The movie simply has a lot to say and show, and allocates its time perfectly, giving us time when we need it, and cutting anything we don't. I don't think I've ever seen a movie whose pacing was this rapid and yet this good before, and I may never again.

Things Havoc disliked:  For an American watching a movie about Swedish characters, I admit that the names get tied up in my head. I very quickly lost track in this movie of who was who and who was related to whom in what way. Fortunately it didn't matter too much, but it got confusing at a few points.

Unfortunately, what was less forgivable was the ending, which I shall not spoil here. I grant that, as an adapted film, the movie has to sort of go where the book took it, but the entire last half-hour or so, while still good stuff, felt somewhat tacked on, as the main thrust of the film had already been achieved. Again, the pacing never slows in the ending (if anything it gets faster), so it's not like it was a bore, but I don't know that its inclusion, at least in the form it took, helped the film much.

Final thoughts:  Honestly though, the above concerns are just nitpicks. This is a fantastic movie, memorable and interesting from opening sequence (a trippy CGI wierd-out set to Led Zepplin), to ending credits. Not often do I encounter 150+ minute movies that I would gladly watch another two hours of if only they would give me more of the characters in it. Given, however, that the book has several sequels, I expect that's exactly what I will be receiving in a year or two.

Final Score:  8.5/10

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