Sunday 24 December 2017

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Zaillian, Fincher and Larsson

I've just been reading an excellent graphic novel based on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and it reminded me of David Fincher's film version, one of my favourite movies — and at the time of its release it was described as a "feel bad Christmas movie" — so it's seasonal!

And I regretted that I'd never posted about it before, so I thought I'd put that right now after watching the Blu-ray again (which features some very useful extras).

You may well be familiar with this material. It's based on a huge global bestselling novel by the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. There was an earlier Swedish film of the book — it's a good film, starring Noomi Rapace in the title role of Lisbeth Salander.

In this one we have Rooney Mara who played a small but memorable part in Fincher's Social Network. Here she is a revelation, almost unrecognisably transformed. 

Rooney Mara says of Rapace in the Swedish version: "What she did is incredible, but there was room for a completely different interpretation." 

How true. Many people have the reflex reaction that the Swedish original must be better than the Hollywood remake.

Sorry, but they are simply wrong.The US version is vastly superior, and an enduring masterpiece. For a start David Fincher is, for my money, the greatest living director. 
And he makes the interesting connection that the story, a dark thriller about the evil of old money, resembles Chinatown.

The movie is written by Steve Zaillian, one of the best screenwriters in the business (he won an Oscar for Schindler's List). 

Zaillian boils down the appeal of the story to "The mystery... and the two characters... they're fantastic." And he has done a fantastic job himself, of adapting this big and complex novel.

But, despite this blog concentrating on giving writers their due, I departed from tradition by putting the director's name in the title here. That's how important I think Fincher's creative contribution is.

The first crucial decision for the American version was to set it in Sweden. Fincher said, "It's a very European property. There was no way to really transpose it. You couldn't make it take place in Seattle or Montreal... although there were conversations! No, it needed to take place in Sweden. It was wholly Swedish."  

Indeed Rooney Mara says not shooting in Sweden would have been "blasphemy." And Goran Visnjic, who plays Salander's boss in the movie, makes the point that she couldn't be a ward of the court like this anywhere except in Sweden. A crucial feature of the plot.

So, a vast and world-class American movie-making machine transferred to Sweden and set to work filming in 2010.

The movie begins with a remarkable title sequence, which is like a nightmare version of a James Bond title sequence. Indeed, Fincher's concept for this was to ask, "What would Lisbeth's nightmares be?"

As I've said, this is a big, complex story. But essentially it tells how disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig – James Bond himself) ends up licking his wounds in a lonely cottage on the estate of a tycoon who has hired him to find the killer of his niece in a crime that dates back to 1965.

Blomkvist first strikes up a friendship with a lovely local feral tabby (played by Scotty the cat). Then his isolation is further diminished when he forms a partnership with Lisbeth, a sort of wild stray cat herself — a punk computer hacker who might be somewhat autistic, or just seriously traumatised...

She's his salvation, and he is hers. Salander is like a feral child who become socialised by her friendship with (and love for) Mikkel. When they finally track down the murderer she politely asks, "May I kill him?" 

She wouldn't have done that before!

The murderer is a marvellous piece of work. He has a basement torture lair where he plays Enya while he commits his atrocities — I think this is hilarious, and also a stroke of genius which speaks to the ultimate banality of this character.

Beautifully written, directed and photographed, with a superlative cast at the top of their game (including Scotty the cat!) this is a flawless film. It was supposed to be the beginning of a franchise.

What a tremendous shame that it wasn't.

(Image credits: Three striking official black and white posters from Imp Awards, but there's no lack of excellent unofficial poster art. The slightly explicit Samya Ghosh one is from Deviant Art. The cover of W magazine is from Pop Sugar.  The superb op-art version with a similar look is by Mike Wrobel and is taken from Society 6 and you can buy copies of a print from the Mike Wrobel Shop.The poster with the scratched eyes is fron Rebloggy, which has a number of interesting designs. The motorcycle and cigarette poster is from Mikie Daniel. The nice one with the blue house is from Behance.)

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