2011, David Fincher - Theatre
I have to wonder how many people have attended this film without the
spectre of rape looming large over it. The purportedly graphic
sequences in the book and the Swedish film adaptation have made the title
almost synonymous with the act, and until it actually happens within David Fincher's recent adaptation of Steig Larsson's novel (and it happens just as
uncomfortably and as brutally as you didn't want to imagine) it sits like a
pall over the film's build-up. But I should say for as sickening as
the acts it shows, it intones so much more of the violence and, to its sincerest credit, doesn't shy away from the unseemly and gag-inducing after-effects of what occurs.
But Fincher's Girl it isn't a film about rape, instead it is largely that of a "closed room" mystery, although in this case the closed room is an island, and the mystery is that much tougher a nut to crack, since it's a 40-year-old cold case with seemingly not a lot of untouched terrain left to tread. Still, the mystery itself is upon which the story hangs its theme, one of predators and
prey, and how one can become the other, and vice versa. Its a well
orchestrated theme by Fincher and co, but a the cost of sub plots and
character diversions that would bolden the mystery which were eliminated to focus more upon the idea of hunters and the hunted.
Passing through an opening sequence with an industrialized/Reznor-ized rendition of Led Zepplin's "Immgrant's Song" that's like a nightmarish counterpart to a traditional James Bond titles, Fincher proves he's still got a gift for music videos, though largely irrelevant to the lengthy feature that comes. Perhaps the abrasive, jagged track accompanied by a torrent of black-on-grey visuals is just the director tenderizing the audience for what's to come (a total Gaspar Noe tactic).
The gothic Bond allusion, isn't too far off either, as there's a lot of high tech gadgetry employed, even more subterfuge, sinster ass-kicking, chase sequences and more than a few wry lines tossed around (and even a bit of globe trotting and bed laying). It's of course a much different tone, and in almost every respect more thought out and character-centric than your average super-spy action-thriller, and yet, by the end, Rooney Mara's Lisabeth Salander became as much a spook archetype as Bond, Bourne and the like.
The predator/prey theme hits from the onset, as Daniel Craig's magazine entrepreneur Mikael Blomkvist emerges from a courthouse where he's just lost a libel case against one of Sweden's richest moguls and has to pay restitution of 600,000 kronor, and also faces losing his journalistic credibility and Millennium Magazine. Though convinced he was set-up, he knows he's defeated and without options, and more than likely facing even further attacks from his wealthy nemesis. Where once he was hunting, he's now the hunted, but the figurehead of a prominent Swedish family seeks to employ Mikael, officially as his biographer, but unofficially to look into the 40-year-long disappearance/suspected death of his beloved niece.
What then unfolds is yet another hunt which weaves, innocuously at first and then firmly, in with the events of Lisabeth, a troubled ward of the state (though in her early-20's), hyper intelligent, and an off-the-books/by-any-means investigator for a prestigious firm. In her status as ward, she's preyed upon by her new guardian, but she cycles back, relentlessly and fearlessly, victimizing him in equally (but justified) brutal ways. Lisabeth is recruited to help Mikael research other murder that might fit in with the cold case, told he needs her help to catch a "murderer of women". Though perhaps innocent, it's yet another predatory tactic.
Mikael and Lisabeth unravel the mystery both together and separately, becoming lovers in the process (that may be mutual predation), and upon discovering the predator the cat and mouse game really begins, with Mikael definitely the mouse... but it's Lisabeth who is the hawk.
Though actually glossing over the "most detestable collection of people you will ever meet" (including a Nazi or two, speaking of predators), the mystery is a satisfying one and it's ultimate reveal is perhaps expected but still executed with a plethora of suspense.
It does drags in it's epilogue, a lengthy sequence involving Lisabeth
becoming that super spy-type which stretches the credibility of the film's reality, although it's certainly not outside the capacity of the character. In the end there's perhaps the ultimate reveal that Mikael
preyed upon her, to an extent, and she went willingly.
Fincher's direction is icy, holding fast with blues and greys, making even summer in Sweden seem like a chilly place. He conveys both the modern and the historical architecture of the land, as well as hinting at the cultural landscape, both past and present, particularly the neo-conservatism as it recalls the Swedish Nazi sympathizers, though I can only imagine this plays a stronger part in the novel as it's relatively scuttled here.
The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is bracing, constantly ratcheting up the tension and lending an ever-present sense of dread and foreboding. There's also a devilish use of Enya's "Orinoko Flow" that'd should be eye-rolling but is pitch perfect.
Every actor involved brings their A-game. Christopher Plummer provides the foundation for the murder mystery and delivers countless lines of exposition like it was natural dialogue, with equal amounts of charm, pain and a hint of (red herring-laced) malice. Daniel Craig works Mikael with subtlety, full of frustration, but equally beaten down by his recent failure, he's far from the everyman but even with his plentiful investigative skills still out of his depth. Rooney Mara has, this awards season, already been recognized for her committed performance, and for all the hype surrounding her take on the role, she still surpasses expectations. It's a highly nuanced and naturally handled, conveying an awkward confidence that transitions to full-bore malice when the demon is let loose (an even more dangerous counterpart to Ryan Gosling's driver in Drive). As intense and convincing her performance is in the rape sequences, one can't overlook the actor who had to play the role on the other side. Yorick van Wageningen is so disgustingly convincing as a barbaric pig of a man, that you have to wonder how it will affect him in his private and professional life (there's reports he had a small breakdown after filming the sequence). It's a dark and extremely effective performance and a thankless one but worth singling out.
Having managed to avoid the phenomena of "The Girl..." movies and books until now, the film had much to live up to, and also to live down. It's not the perfect movie, nor the perfect story, but there's an exceptional level of craft that draws the viewer in and holds them through to the finale... well, almost.