Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New “Girl” on the Block

As you may be aware, it was here in The Rap Sheet that we featured the very first English-language review of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s soon-to-be-award-winning international bestseller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We subsequently put up a number of posts about Larsson, including a rare interview with his father, Erland Larsson, an interview with Dragon Tattoo’s UK publisher, Christopher MacLehose, and the first English-language critique of Yellowbird’s 2009 Swedish film version (with English subtitles) of Larsson’s thriller.

So it was a delight when I received a call from Lucy Ramsey, the publicity director at Quercus Publishing, offering me a ticket to the world premiere of the new, English-language film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was scheduled to be held at Leicester Square in London this last Monday, December 12, two weeks prior to the movie’s global release on December 26.

That evening, I met up with Ramsey and my usual partners in crime, Mike Stotter, Ayo Onatade, and Chris Simmons at the Bear and Staff public house to collect our tickets. To say I was excited was an understatement, especially as I had a very early start that morning. So I quaffed a large coffee containing four double espresso shots to ensure that I was sufficiently alert when the projector began rolling. (The result of this preparation was that I became rather “wired,” much to the amusement of my colleagues.)

On the walk to Leicester Square, we bumped into editor MacLehose, who enjoyed my off-the-cuff mention of how surreal it was that Daniel Craig, the silver screen’s current James Bond, should be heading this new movie’s cast. My observation related to something he told me when I interviewed him a few years back:
Ali Karim: So tell us what, in your opinion, makes [Larsson’s] books “unique”?

Christopher MacLehose: Lisbeth Salander, no question. Because [her partner] Mikhael Blomkvist--well, I am very interested in what the film company makes of the material. Will they retain Salander as the main lead, or will they enhance Blomkvist and make them at the same level? My feeling is that people in all translations respond to the utter originality of Lisbeth Salander. No one’s seen anything quite like her. There was a time when people said James Bond was utterly original.
With tickets in hand, we all walked down the film premiere’s red carpet, flash guns popping from the array of photographers and the press swarming like bees around Leicester Square. I had to smile as I overheard one of the photographers say to a colleague, “Who’s the black guy with the tall bloke?” pointing his camera toward me. His colleague responded, “He’s a fucking nobody.” This made me chuckle.

As we took our seats in the theater, the audience was buzzing. The screen before us was filled with a live video feed from the red carpet, showing the array of real celebrities making their way in to see this highly anticipated film debut.

Then, just prior to the movie starting, the managing director from Sony UK (Sony having been this film’s production company) took to the stage and welcomed David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s director, along with screenwriter Steven Zaillian, performers Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, and producer Cean Chaffin. As they finally walked off the stage, a rousing round of applause bid them farewell, just before the screen curtain went up.

Let me say that I enjoyed the original Swedish version directed by Niels Arden Oplev, so I was intrigued to see what the Americans might accomplish with the same material. I was not disappointed, as this new version is, in a word, mesmerizing.

Fincher, who previously directed such pictures as The Game, Alien 3, Benjamin Button, and Zodiac, has crafted a remarkable film here. Screenwriter Zaillian [Hannibal, Schindler’s List, et al.) has toned down the violence of Larsson’s yarn just “a tad” for squeamish American audiences, but this new Dragon Tattoo still packs a startling gut-punch, opening with an outstanding title sequence akin to, and heavily influenced by, Maurice Binder’s James Bond title sequences. The film’s actual start features Trent Reznor’s reworking of the screams from Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song.” With a running time just short of 2.5 hours (the Swedish version was three hours in length), it boasts astounding visuals and fast-cut editing, gripping you to your seat like a vice made of serrated glass.

This film’s cast is remarkable. Especially of note are the supporting actors, including a roster of international cinema luminaries: Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson, Stephen Berkoff, Geraldine James, and Stellan Skarsgard. But Craig’s performance as troubled journalist Mikael Blomkvist is especially arresting. While the cast members generally adopt subtle Swedish accents, Craig’s is the least Swedish of the bunch, which actually plays well as a contextual contrast. Craig/Blomkvist does not meet up with Rooney Mara, playing bisexual computer hacker Lisabeth Salander, until the halfway point of the story (true to the narrative structure of Larsson’s novel as well as the original Swedish film), and by the time they do get together, the chemistry between them is electric. Despite the darkness of his source material, Fincher manages to inject some faint humor here, with
the biggest laugh inspired by a T-shirt Salander/Mara wears to great effect.

The film is very fast-paced, due to exceptional editing, and the tracking shots and visuals are downright stunning. The white snow that covers so many scenes actually made me shiver, and I’ll be surprised if the cinematography of this Dragon Tattoo isn’t recognized in the 2012 film awards. Zaillian and Fincher have wisely downplayed the opening business section, much as the Swedish film version did, and also to save time, the ending has been changed slightly, offering a truncated but equally heart-warming climax. There’s still an epilogue, in which Blomkvist gets his revenge--thanks to Salander--against billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström (played by Ulf Friberg), who had sued him for libel. That jars slightly against the closing reunion scene featuring retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), but it’s necessary.

So here’s the question that accompanies all remakes: “Was this new picture as good as the original one?” Hmm. I have to sit firmly on the fence on that one, and state that this new movie is up to the quality of the Swedish version; it’s just different. I must say, though, that Fincher’s film is maybe a tad more accessible to a mainstream audience, not only because it’s in English, but because the sexual violence of the Swedish movie has been toned down marginally. (I still wouldn’t suggest, however, that you take your grandmother to a screening. This is not a movie for people who are averse to thematic challenges, visceral drama, or strong sexual themes.)

Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the 2009 version, isn’t as enthusiastic about the American version as I am. He’s quoted as saying: “Even in Hollywood there seems to be a kind of anger about the remake, like, ‘Why would they remake something when they can just go see the original?’ Everybody who loves film will go see the original one. It’s like, what do you want to see, the French version of La Femme Nikita or the American one? You can hope that Fincher does a better job.”

Nonetheless, I strongly encourage you to see this film, which is likely to be the subject of much conversation in the new year.

One last comment: I absolutely love Sony Pictures’ tag-line for Fincher’s film, “The Feel-Bad Movie of 2012.” Somebody certainly deserves a raise for thinking that one up!

(Below) Ali Karim joins Girl with the Dragon Tattoo publisher Christopher MacLehose at the film’s London premiere.

1 comment:

Sly said...

Oh Ali you make it hard to not see this version. I loved the Swedish version no matter the sub titles.

I'm a big Daniel Craig fan so there's that along with your encouraging review. I will be seeing this version with a more open mind than if I hadn't read your review.