The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.

So I’ve been hearing this title The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for quite some time. Well aware that it was a novel long before I ever heard of the Fincher film version, I never had time to read the book. Or maybe I didn’t feel motivated to read an English translation of a Swedish work. Perhaps I never caught a review of the book that piqued my interest or no one bothered to tell me in person just how good a read it really is. Whatever. By the time I realized that I need to read this book, plus the other two in the Millennium series, I was seeing previews for the Hollywood adaptation. Those previews looked very intriguing, if not downright mesmerizing. Besides, if Daniel Craig is starring, you can bet I’ll be there.

Sometimes a Hollywood remake of a foreign-language film can leave a lot to be desired and adaptations of complex popular books, even those highly anticipated by fans of the original, may tend to fall flat. These are my typical concerns with movies based on stories first published in a format meant to be read, not visually ingested. Once I started paying attention to the previews for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, though, I reassessed my hesitation. Then came the epiphany: directed by David Fincher. Duh! All of my apprehension dissolved and I couldn’t wait to see this movie. Other films directed by Fincher such as Zodiac, Se7en, The Social Network, etc. are so superior that I had no doubt this would be a great movie. How closely it might remain true to the original source is another topic, but since I had not yet read the book I felt confident that I would enjoy the movie immensely without being hampered by comparisons.

It was with high expectations that I went to see this much-hyped film. All I knew of it was what I had seen in the previews:  it was set in extremely cold Sweden, there was a decades-old mystery to be solved, there would be a young female character sporting some kind of dragon-shaped tattoo, and Daniel Craig would lead the effort to solve the mystery.

Fincher did not disappoint – it was a riveting experience! Even though the beginning felt a little slow at first, it laid the groundwork for fully developing the main characters. To understand this girl with a dragon tattoo, Lisbeth, you had to get to know her, and Fincher made sure we got a proper introduction. Words like tough, independent, clever, fearless, strong, cunning, brilliant – words one would usually associate with a male role – are not even enough to properly describe Lisbeth. A ward of the state, she is at the mercy of her government caseworker for survival. When the caseworker mistakenly assumes he can do whatever he wants to her, she treats him to a dose of his own medicine – tenfold. Then she is free to take on the job of investigator for Mikael Blomkvist, helping him dig up the past of a wealthy family composed of some very strange and scary characters.

Just like other Fincher movies there is some shocking, graphic violence in this one. And though it may be difficult to watch (may actually have you squirming in your seat in discomfort), it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It feels real in a way that lets you sympathize with Lisbeth and understand a tiny bit about what motivates her. Rooney Mara deserves every bit of Oscar attention she gets for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Daniel Craig is excellent as Mikael Blomkvist, the Swedish magazine editor who takes on the assignment of solving the murder of an elderly, wealthy industrialist’s niece forty years before. Christopher Plummer as the elderly gentleman is a real treat.

It is quite a complex story: Does the niece’s murder tie into other old, unsolved murders? Just how crazy is Lisbeth? Is Blomkvist being set up to take an even greater fall than the disgrace he endures at the beginning of the movie? What is really wrong with the Vanger family, isolated on their island estate, protected by their collective silence and their vast wealth? Is there anyone still living who has the answers to the puzzle?

I am told by people who have read the book and seen the movie that the film is a great take on the novel, but much had to be left out. This is not surprising as it is understandably difficult to compress a really well-written and detailed story into appropriate movie length. Also, Rooney Mara may have taken the character of Lisbeth in a different direction than the actress in the original Swedish-language film version. I have no quibble with any of that; this is an excellent, riveting mystery-drama all on its own. Now I have to find time to read the book and see what amazing material had to be left out of Fincher’s version. Then I’ll read the other two books in the series and by the time those movies are made I’m sure I’ll have an opinion about how they compare to the novels.

In the meantime, I highly recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to anyone who enjoys good movies. Just be aware that there is profanity, graphic violence, and nudity in abundance.

Rating: Full Bucket plus an extra serving and some Milk DudsA full bucket of popcorn!One serving of popcorn

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Dream House

By CosmicTwin3

2011 Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts. Directed by Jim Sheridan.

Anyone who has the slightest interest in basic psychology or dream interpretation probably knows the significance of a house – the family’s home – as a symbol for something else: the “self.” Upper floors in the house represent the higher consciousness while the basement represents the basic, primal, hidden aspects of the personality, and sometimes even the darker, negative desires. In other words, the condition of the house reflects the subject’s state of mind.

Dream House opens with Daniel Craig’s character choosing to leave a lucrative, successful job in the city to move to a suburban home with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and two little girls, where he will be a full-time writer. This is the house of their dreams where they spend their days painting and decorating, basking in their good fortune and the love they share.

It isn’t too long, though, before something sinister disturbs the tranquility of their idyllic existence. Strange and frightening figures lurk in the darkness outside, scaring the children as well as Mom and Dad. One night Dad is awakened by a strange noise and searches the house to find a group of teenage goths partying in the basement.

Dream House Movie Poster

In search of a reason for these happenings and protection for his family, Dad starts making inquiries and discovers that their “dream house” was the scene of a grisly murder five years before – a mother and two daughters were shot to death by their husband/father who was unable to stand trial for the murders due to his impaired mental state. He spent five years in a mental facility and has just been released. Could this be the man seen lurking in the shadows, watching the family who now occupy the house? Is he a danger to them? The one sympathetic neighbor (Naomi Watts) who talks to Daniel Craig also seems to be hiding something. Does she know something about the house or the murders that she isn’t willing to disclose?

Piecing together the puzzle of what’s going on takes Daniel Craig into some very dark corners of his own mind; the truth he discovers threatens not only his sanity but the very existence of his family. Before long the beautiful house of his dreams takes on the appearance of a deserted, dilapidated house of horrors. But how much is real – and how much is only in his mind?

Jim Sheridan has infused an otherwise run-of-the-mill suspense film with believable scenarios, relying not on shock and gore as so-called “entertainment,” choosing instead to thoroughly develop sympathetic and likable characters. Even when what you might think is the “big reveal” occurs sooner than expected, the story has you hooked and demands full attention through to the end. Daniel Craig’s excellent performance as a man driven to madness trying desperately to protect his family elevates it from a somewhat predictable thriller to an absorbing character study. A demonstration of his exceptional acting skills is provided while watching him come to the inevitable realization of the actual truth. And the one or two scenes giving us a satisfying look at those ripped abs doesn’t hurt a bit.

Two boxes of popcorn

Cosmic Twins rating: Double Serving