Sunday, May 20, 2012

Another year of the dragon

Mara Rooney and Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander
American remakes of recent European films are the Pat Boone records of movies.  Pat Boone built his early career covering Fats Domino and other rhythm and blues artists, taming the beat, slicking up the rough-edged harmonies and most importantly smoothing out the primal sounds of the lead vocals on the originals into the caramel of late-50s mainstream pop.  Just since I started this blog I've written about Chloe, Everybody's Fine and Let Me In, all of which were perfectly acceptable, inoffensive and completely unnecessary.  Essentially, all these films exist merely because American filmgoers are ignorant, lazy, illiterate pigs who can't be bothered to see a foreign language film, because they can't wrap their heads around the idea that people not only DO live differently than they do, but that they want do; that they think differently and see the world differently.  Americans, especially those stuck between the costs, see America as the norm and all the other people of the world as deviants who would like to be American if they could.

Admirably, the makers of the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) figured out that they weren't going to make all the Nazi stuff play unless the setting remained in Northern Europe.  (Although, when, in 1982, I bought the house in Northern New Jersey that I still live in today, the garage had stacks of KKK and Nazi Bund literature which I disposed of in an hysterical panic, fearing bad mojo for the house I had bought.  Today I wish I had turned over at least a few copies to the town Historical Society--especially since we are probably one of the most liberal towns in the US.)  The cold, the isolation, the dark history, all would be tough to translate.

By and large, if one has seen the Swedish film, there are few surprises or novelties in David Fincher's remake.  It is disappointing to see who slavishly Fincher adheres to the Charlie Chan rule, whereby, the best known second-tier star in the film is always the perpetrator.  Here, Stellan Skarsgard has to be the villain, because he's the only supporting actor I've heard of.  Oddly, given the international cast here, he's not as convincing at being Swedish as many of the others.

Here's the only reason to spend two-and-a-half-hours on this still-sloppy-mess of a plot -- Mara Rooney as Lisbeth Salander.  Where as Noomi Rapace was certainly ferocious and strangely beautiful enough, even with the language barrier, I could feel the calculation in her performance.  Mara Rooney is clearly far more professionally accomplished simply because she never gave the impression she was acting.  She almost seemed to shy from the camera.  It is astonishing how unattractive, physically and morally, she was willing to be, especially when you realize that she was the rather pretty and bright girl that Jesse Eisenberg blew off in the first scene of The Social Network.

If Zuckerberg had been nicer, maybe she wouldn't
have become a crazy Swedish hacker
There is none of Rapace's tentativeness, the sense that she might completely retreat and shut the film done.  Rooney feels like a far more fearless actor, a more dangerous adversary and a more loyal friend that Rapace's more fragile creation.  Perhaps that is what makes Fincher's film American -- Rooney's Lisbeth's willingness to accept risk, both physical and emotional.  There are losses; Salander's triumph over the pervert who controls her money is less shocking and less surprising.  Of course, I wasn't surprised by the events of the story--that should go without saying. But I was unsurprised that Rooney's Lisbeth would easily best her molester, because her inner strength was always evident.  It also makes her sexual liason with Blomquist less offensive, because in the remake it seems clear that Lisbeth is--in addition to satisfying her own physical desires--manipulating and controlling Blomquist, not just surrending to proximity and convenience.

It concerns me that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross who did such counter-intuitive yet effective work on Social Network created such a New-Wave-Mickey-Mouse score for Dragon Tattoo, telegraphing plot points and emotions.  I presume that they and Fincher have picked up nice paychecks on this little effort and will soon return to more personal and characteristic work.  On the other hand, David Fincher has signed for a biopic of Steve Ross to be written by Aaron Sorkin, so perhaps there is more deja vu in our filmgoing future.

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