The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)


If you’re a follower of my blog (which evidently you are) you’ve noticed my header image is from one of the best moments in David Fincher’s American adaptation/remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I chose this image because it is one of my favorite, powerful moments in cinema, it is one of my favorite films, and because I kind of look like Rooney Mara. So my love and admiration for this film is obvious right from the start. So today’s post is going to be a little different. I don’t need to review the film and tell you it’s good, that’s already obvious. I want to examine the film in terms of its place within cinema as both an adaptation of a novel and a remake of a foreign film.
I recently came across Smartling, a translation software company, and since I’m obsessed with movies, I immediately started thinking about movies and their relationship with language, particularly in foreign remakes. David Fincher had a very difficult task when it came to remaking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. First, he had to adapt the Swedish novel written by Stieg Larsson. This necessitated the challenge of translating the novel into an American screenplay, preserving the themes and Swedish setting of the story, all while making it more appealing and understandable to Western audiences. But then Fincher also had the challenge of remaking a film that had already been very recently made in Sweden. The three Swedish Millenium films were all released in 2009, just two years before Fincher’s. So Fincher had to remain faithful to the novel, make it more cinematic, and differentiate his film from the already successful (even to American audiences) Swedish version.

Rooney Mara as Lizbeth Salander and Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist.
Rooney Mara as Lizbeth Salander and Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist.

Language is an extremely important tool human beings have for communicating. In today’s internet driven culture different cultures can now communicate with one another seamlessly and more easily than ever before. It is integral to get the best, most accurate translation in order to not misconstrue what someone is saying. The makers of the English Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would have had to rely heavily on translators of the Swedish novel. One key difference of the English and Swedish versions of the novel and films is in its title. In Sweden, Larrson’s Millennium trilogy is known as Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women). This title coveys a strong feminist message and perceives society (particularly Sweden’s) as misogynistic. English publishers decided to discard this title and instead went with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This title is much blander, free of any social commentary and in no way attempts to convey the message of the novel. This was a conscious choice made by translators and the publishers. It is a good example of how translation can have such a huge impact on a work of art.

The biggest and most obvious choice Fincher and the American producers made when remaking TGWTDT film was to have the characters speak in English. This is essential to adapting a foreign film for American audiences. There are three key actors to Fincher’s film and the relationship each of them has with language is noteworthy. First, there is Rooney Mara, an American actress, playing the heroine Lisbeth Salander. Rooney is a native American speaker, but in the film she speaks English with a Swedish accent. This helps to reaffirm her character’s nationality and the setting of the film while making sure English audiences can easily understand her. Then we have Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist. Daniel is an English actor (helloooo James Bond) speaking in his natural, English voice. He chooses to not affect any kind of accent. Finally we have Stellan Skarsgård, a very famous Swedish actor. Here he speaks English (his second language) with a Swedish accent (his native language). An interesting little soup isn’t it? Why did Fincher allow his actors to make these choices? In order to imbue the film with a hybridity. It successfully straddles both the American and Swedish worlds. It isn’t realistic, but it is effective in communicating the story to English audiences while staying true to the story’s setting.

The setting of the film and its place in Swedish history is integral to its plot. This isn’t a story that you can adapt to an American setting, it would lose much of its commentary, particularly that on present day Nazism. So Fincher keeps the film in Sweden and mixes the two languages together. None of the actors speak any Swedish in the film (apart from the odd Herr Blomkvist), they only speak in English. But the texts that they read are both English and Swedish, enhancing the hybridity of the film. Television news crawls are in English as are store signs and Millennium magazine. But everything Salander reads on her computer is in English, as are most of the newspaper clippings she reads, and the bible. It’s a great way of submerging the viewer in Sweden while still making sure that they understand the integral elements of the story. The things that Lizbeth reads are extremely important to her investigation, thus they are in English while cans of cat food are not so important. This hybridity is one of my favorite elements of the film.

Another example of hybridity is evident in the opening sequence of the American film. This opening is stunning both visually and musically, I remember seeing it in theaters and thinking that it was nearly orgasmic. It is just such a rush, especially on the big screen. The images conveyed are symbols that can be understood no matter what language you speak. But with his choice of music Fincher again emphasizes his films hybridity. “Immigrant Song” is an infamous song, originally done by Led Zeppelin. It is a song about Swedish immigration sung by an English band from their perspective. Fincher twists the song for his opening sequence by making it a cover sung by Karen O, a South Korean/American artist. So Fincher is appropriating the song by giving it a female voice/perspective as well as imitating his own remake with the song cover. It’s a powerful sequence that mirrors the entire film perfectly both visually and musically.

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig star in Columbia Pictures' "THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO."
As you can see when you examine David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a little more closely, language, translation, and intention are extremely important to how a remake of a foreign film will be perceived by American audiences. Fincher may tweak the story here and there, but it only serves to strengthen the thematic messages of the novel. He also combats the language challenge by employing a hybridity of language, creating a time and place that is both Swedish and English. This is strengthened by the choices his actors make with their Swedish accents or lack thereof as well as his use of the “Immigrant Song.” The audience and the film itself are both aware of the film’s status as both a translation and a remake. The ways Fincher faces this challenge make this film an incredible cinematic work.
Big shout out to the following video which helped inspire this post:

Seven (1995)


It’s hard to believe that this film is nearly twenty years old and I only saw it for the first time last year. Granted, I’m only 22 years old. But still. It’s such a good film, I don’t know how I managed so long without seeing it or hardly even hearing about it. I guess it was actually a bit of a blessing though as I managed to go into the film without having any knowledge of what happens in the end. Since last year I’ve watched Seven (or is it Se7en?) 5 times because it is so brilliant and the best David Fincher film I’ve ever seen.

Soul shattering heart break.
Soul shattering heart break.

This is the film that really launched Brad’s dramatic career. This film shows that Brad is more than a pretty face. The boy can act. More than that he can keep up with Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, two of the all-time greats. Detective Mills (Brad) is likeable in a young, innocent, naïve way. Brad is great sauntering around, cocky and asking too many questions. His evolution over the course of the film is believable and organic. You can really see Mills becoming more and more like Somerset (Morgan Freeman) especially by the end of the film. As great as Brad is, you can tell that this is one of his first major roles. He doesn’t have too much practical experience, much like Mills. He isn’t an amazing actor, I think he just happens to have a lot of similarities with Mills. He fits the role, he’s just being more like himself most of the time than acting. At least that’s the impression I got. So Brad is good, but one of the weaker points of the film.

Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt).
Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt).

Morgan Freeman as Detective Somerset is the emotional anchor of the film. He is the real protagonist although he doesn’t have as dramatic an arc as Mills. This is my favorite Morgan Freeman role. Sometimes Morgan just walks into a film and says “I’m God,” takes his cheque, and leaves. He doesn’t have to do much because duh, he’s Morgan Freeman. His voice simply makes things dramatic. But in Seven he really has fully realized this character and seems to have fun playing the part. His acting is a huge part of what makes the final scene so intense. Just the way he looks at that box… I especially love how he says “I’ll be around” at the very end. You can hear the emotion in his voice as he resigns himself to continuing to work in such a cruel world.

Acting doesn't get any better than Kevin Spacey as John Doe.
Acting doesn’t get any better than Kevin Spacey as John Doe.

It’s the combination of Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey that make this film truly amazing. Sometimes the first half or so of the movie kind of drags for me. They don’t know who the killer is and they just keep investigating one killing after another. But once Kevin walks into the police building calling “Detective” suddenly things get incredibly exciting. When you see how well Kevin inhabits the role of John Doe it’s hard to believe he was hired just days before shooting began. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Even the way John dunks his tea bag is riveting! 1995 was truly his year as The Usual Suspects also came out. He is one of the greats, just remarkable in everything that he does. And he brings a kind of dark humor to John Doe as well. But he is just so horrifying, especially as he so casually tells Mills what he did to his wife. John Doe is so calm, it’s eerily magnetic. Kevin as John Doe has had a huge impact on movies that can still be seen today. Part of the Joker as depicted in The Dark Knight is a total rip off of him (as great as Heath Ledger is).

Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mills (Brad Pitt).
Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mills (Brad Pitt).

Gwyneth Paltrow is also surprisingly good and pleasant. I’m not a huge fan of hers, I think her off-screen persona has become very alienating. It’s hard to distinguish her from her characters these days, she’s lost some of her believability. But in Seven she is fresh and young and perfect as Mills’s wife, Tracy. She is the true innocent in the film, guilty of no sin that I can see. Her scenes with Mills and Somerset over dinner and again with Somerset in the diner are crucial to the success of the film. Anyone less attractive or kind would have diminished the film and the impact of the final act. But you truly feel sorry for her and her depression and she is also funny. Her loss seems to hurt the audience and Somerset almost as much as it hurts Mills. The ending would mean nothing if the audience did not care for her so much. Gwyn’s performance is powerful in a quiet way.
David Fincher has done truly incredible work with this film. I don’t know if he can ever top it. Everything just comes together to create the perfect image and story. The set design is dark and gritty. You can really understand why Tracy hates living there so much. It’s depressing. The opening credits are also incredible. Creepy. Disturbing. They seem like something John Doe himself put together. I really appreciate the attention to detail, which David is quite famous for. Sometime it can make all the difference and that is definitely true of Seven.
What struck me the most this viewing was the amazing cinematography and directing. I don’t know why I never paid closer attention before. Maybe it’s because I just watched this fascinating video a little while ago:
The shots that David chose and the way things are framed… it elevates the story telling so much. You can see that this is a true master at work. If you had asked me before this viewing what I thought of hand held cameras I would have said “Ugh, I hate them. They’re distracting and sloppy.” But when I watched Seven this time I realized that when used at the right time, a hand held camera can generate a lot of excitement. The audience feels they too are participating in the chase. Part of the John Doe chase utilizes this as well as when Somerset runs to Mills after the box discovery. And speaking of the box. The way it is treated and framed in the shot. It lends it so much weight that it feels like its own character before the audience has any idea what’s inside of it. I also really enjoyed the framing used when John Doe and Mills are talking in the car. It could have been shot quite plainly with just shots of John’s face. But instead we see John reflected in the rear view mirror (Somerset’s view) or through the cage screen (Mills’s view). It makes a simple conversation incredibly interesting and literally puts the audience in the places of Mills and Somerset.
Seven is exceptional film making. I have minor problems with the pacing and Brad’s acting. But as I said, that is minor. David Fincher has delivered the ultimate crime thriller. It has emotion, action, horror, surprises, basically everything a viewer could ask for. I can’t stress enough the emotional impact of Seven. It will haunt you. I still get a thrill out of it after multiple viewings. Seven is a true work of art. 9/10

Gone Girl (2014)


This will be a spoiler review, so don’t read it if you haven’t seen the film or read the book. I recently read the novel by Gillian Flynn this summer and I absolutely loved it. I haven’t been that captivated by a book in a few years. It has an interesting, twisty plot, but it also delves into the complexities of relationships, particularly of marriages/couples. David Fincher is my second favorite director, so when I heard that he would be the one adapting this amazing book I was incredible excited. Gone Girl was my most anticipated film of this fall/winter.
Gone Girl is focused on a missing wife case in which the husband is under suspicion. It sounds like a classic crime case that is on the nightly news quite frequently. But Gone Girl has plenty of twists and turns that set it apart from anything else about half way through the film and the book. I really enjoy the plot, but there are a few things that were faulty about it on screen that the book handles much better (I’ll just say right now, the book is better, but that’s not too surprising). It’s hard for me to review the film without comparing it to the book. For the first 20 minutes of the film I found it hard to settle into. I kept thinking about the major twist to come and just wasn’t immediately drawn into the film’s world.

Ben Affleck (showcasing his cocky grin) as Nick Dunne.
Ben Affleck (showcasing his cocky grin) as Nick Dunne.

I’ll get to the good parts (and there are quite a few of them) before I get into my issues with the film. Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris are both quite good. I don’t think Ben’s part is too hard, he just kind of stands around looking either shocked or like a d-bag (as Star Lord would say). In one or two scenes in which he is in conflict with Rosamund Pick he is quite good and able to stand his ground. But otherwise there isn’t anything really special about his performance. NPH is very good as the creepy Desi Collings. It’s good to see him in a different kind of role and he’s really good at it. Not amazing, but above average. Carrie Coon is good as Nick’s sister, Margo. But I couldn’t help wishing someone like Katherine Moennig had been in the role instead, she would have knocked that role out of the park. Oh well.

Rosamund is definitely amazing from her first penetrating stare to her last.
Rosamund is definitely amazing from her first penetrating stare to her last.

David Fincher has made a star out of quite a few actors now. Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rooney Mara. Now Rosamund Pike can be added to that list. She is far and away the most gripping, terrifying, captivating, enthralling part of Gone Girl. I could probably come up with many more positive adjectives to describe her. From the first moment she stares through the screen at the audience she is breathtaking. Beautiful and just as mysterious as Nick Dunne says she is. I too want to sift through her brains and find out who this girl with the penetrating stare is. And by her last eerie look at the screen I know all too well who Amy is and it terrifies, but also strangely seduces me. Rosamund sells the big twist of the film and is the main reason it works at all. The scene in which she runs away is thrilling, one of the only times in the film I felt a thrill of excitement. That and her bloody, gruesome scene with Desi. Rosamund is a very convincing Amy.
The only fault with Amy, that has absolutely nothing to do with Rosamund, is she is extremely unsympathetic. She’s not overly sympathetic in the novel, but she is more understandable. Here she is painted more as a villain. A psychotic bitch who lost her marbles because her husband cheated on her and shattered her illusory perfect world. I think that there is a little more to Amy and it’s a shame that she is treated like a scorned wife whom audiences have scene time and time again.
Part of the problem for me is the film is too biased towards Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). But the audience also isn’t inside his head enough. It’s a conundrum. Everything Nick says is taken for fact and a lot of his more unsavory personality traits are overlooked. Other than his fling with a college student he really does seem like your typical cute, funny guy who the world has dealt a bad hand. The book does a much better job of balancing Nick and Amy’s perspectives, which is part of why the novel is so special. I understand the story needed to be streamlined for a 2 ½ hour long movie. But something vital is lost in the transition.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunne.
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunne.

This can also be said for the critical examination of marriage and relationships in our modern world. In the film, the reason Nick and Amy’s marriage crumbles is kind of quickly brushed aside. The film basically just tells us two things 1) The recession took a toll on the couple. Financial woes are a common cause of arguments, thus Amy and Nick started to disagree and fight. 2) They were pretending to be their ideal selves throughout the first couple of years. Then after a while the masks came off and Nick and Amy didn’t like each other so much. The first point is a very simplistic, quick way of explaining things. Convenient for a film. The second point is part of what I found so interesting about the book and I wish somehow they had explored it more in the film. Even just one extra scene. The whole film is mostly just plot, plot, plot. Which is good because it gives it great momentum. But at the same time it is glossing over the novel’s critique of society and how people fool not only each other, but also themselves. That key point is what made me so excited for the film and it is also what disappoints me the most about it. I hoped David Fincher was going to somehow lay bare this issue and kind of ask the audience to look at what they do to each other, but also how deception hurts each individual self. Something enthralling and shocking, akin to the shattering of Brad Pitt’s world and soul in Seven. But instead all the audience gets is a pretty interesting thriller that can all be chalked up to one crazy bitch and her psychotic, control freak tendencies and the ho hum guy who stays with her. I feel like David Fincher really missed the opportunity to put his mark on this story and to elevate it. He could have done that by tweaking the ending, but instead it sticks close to the book (the book’s one major weakness).
This whole film kind of felt like David Fincher was just phoning it in. He’s great at what he does, but in this case that just isn’t good enough. There are a couple stand out scenes that screamed to me “This is David Fincher at work!” But otherwise his technique here is very subtle. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means Gone Girl is nowhere on par with Fight Club or Seven or even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo(which I love). I will say that although the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is very subtle, it is quite effective and one of the more enjoyable aspects of the film. It’s like a creepy lullaby. Which is spot on for the story.
Wow, I didn’t think I would write quite so much, but this film really hit a nerve with me. It is a good film, but considering the talent associated with it, I think it could have been better. But at least a new star is born in Rosamund Pike 8/10

Fight Club (1999)


I felt like re-watching some of David Fincher’s older films because I am extremely excited to see his new film, Gone Girl, when it arrives next week. I absolutely loved the book and I love most of Fincher’s work so it’s a win-win for me. Anyways it’s hard to believe Fight Club is now 15 years old. As I was watching the film last night I found it hard to review because it is so ingrained in pop culture now it would be almost sacrilegious to say something bad about it. Fight Club is based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It is about a nameless narrator (for simplicity’s sake I’m just going to refer to him as Jack) played by Edward Norton. Jack lives a boring life where he works at a job he doesn’t like and buys Ikea furniture he doesn’t need. That is until he meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt).

My favorite part of the film, what makes it so enjoyable to watch are the actors. Edward, Helena, Brad, and even Meatloaf are all excellent. The first half of the film is brilliant because they all bounce off each other so well. Edward’s narration is particularly funny as he discusses how miserable his life is and how much he wants that yin and yang coffee table. Brad is also quite excellent. He exudes so much charisma and machismo he easily draws in the viewer as well as Jack. And I absolutely love his extravagant wardrobe. But my favorite of all the actors by far is Helena, I think she steals the show in any scene she is in. I may be a little biased because I love her in everything she does and also because she is the only woman in the film and really the only character I can relate to. Her timing is perfect and the way she delivers her lines is just hilarious and shocking. One of the most memorable lines (and there are many in the film) is when she tells Tyler “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school.” I loved every minute she was on screen.

I really love the humor in this film. There is so much of it and it is quite shocking at times. The highlight of the humor for me is pretty much anything to do with Robert Paulsen (Meat Loaf). I guess I just find his big “bitch tits” hilarious, especially when Jack is crying into them. The first half of the film is the more humorous what with the narration and the support groups, so that’s why I prefer it and why I think the film starts to suffer in the second half (basically once Project Mayhem starts).

Edward Norton becomes acquainted with Bob.
Edward Norton becomes acquainted with Bob.

I love how right away the opening credits establish that we are in Jack’s head and the narrative is totally his. My issues with the film mostly have to do with the plot. For the first half of the film there is almost no plot. And it’s awesome. Jack is just going through the motions and meets Marla and Tyler and starts the Club. So things are fun for a while. But right around when Project Mayhem starts suddenly there is a plot and a problem that has to be solved. I found my attention wandering. I don’t care that Tyler is trying to undermine capitalism, I just want to see some fights and laugh at Bob’s tits. I think it might be in part the pacing of the film changes. It’s really fast paced then things start to feel sluggish. Maybe it’s because Tyler disappears for a while and Marla isn’t around much either. The first time I saw Fight Club I did not see the twist of Tyler and Jack being the same person coming. I remember being surprised, but also very confused. I didn’t really understand how it worked then. On the second viewing it is easy to see a million clues pointing to this from the very beginning. Director David Fincher is very clever in how he orchestrates the film by giving you all these hints. He’s very good at walking that tight rope of not giving away too much. The twist is definitely one of the highlights of the film and why it is so memorable. It doesn’t feel cheap to me as some of these things normally do.

I like the commentary on modern society that the film explores. But it is so obvious that it kind of spoils it for me. It just hits you like a rock over the head over and over and over again. I get that society is emasculating men and so Tyler and Jack start the Fight Club as a way to rebel. But I don’t need five different speeches from Tyler telling me this repeatedly. Focusing on the testicular cancer group at the beginning is funny and kind of clever, but not very subtle. The commentary against consumerism is also interesting, but not particularly original. One reading of the film that I found extremely interesting is that the whole film is about Jack’s desire and struggle to commit to a relationship with Marla. I find that rings quite true and you can read more about that theory here:

Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

I will say that overall I think David Fincher has done a wonderful job. He is able to set up this dark, grungy, violent world and somehow make it seem appealing and glamorous in its own way. The characters are so funny and eccentric the viewer wants to join the Club. I enjoy the themes and overall message of the film, even if at times I find it to be a little heavy handed. I prefer to think for myself a little bit and to be able to draw my own conclusions instead of being force fed them by Tyler Durden. Although maybe that’s the point. We are in Jack’s head after all. 8.5/10

Funny enough Cinema Sins just posted this video: