42 (2013)

Directed by Brian Helgeland
Directed by Brian Helgeland

42’s Brian Helgeland, director and writer of the film, does nothing short of what was expected with the story of Jackie Robinson. The film tells the story of Robinson’s journey into major league baseball in 1940’s America.

42 is done in the tradition of the American hero biopic. Slow pans over scenery. A script with a trail of seemingly unending one-liners. A feeling of being smothered by an America flag. Yes, freedom. Helgeland’s story does often feel like it’s all too aware of it’s historical relevance. You almost hear this film whispering to itself, “I am a biopic of an American legend.” Yes, it was a little cheesy at times. You got the feeling that you were hearing a script for much of the movie, rather than hearing natural dialogue. The thing about depicting historical events is that they are made worthy of depiction by their very uniqueness, making it unnecessary to saturate the dialogue with pithy one-liners. As the writing went, the film always felt very much on paper, a failure on Helgeland’s part.

You couldn’t help but feel for Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played Robinson. Not only because he was brilliantly

Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson
Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson

playing the role of a man who withstood the vitriol of human hatred in his quest to become a major league baseball player, no. But because Helgeland’s script only allowed him so much room to shine. However, he did, in an ironic testament to the ability of a black man to beat the odds against him Boseman’s performance was the most believable aspect of the film. Alongside Boseman was actress Nicole Beharie, who played Robinson’s wife, Rachel Robinson. Though her screen time was rather limited, Beharie emitted a light that spread across the entire film, to the point that you almost felt her heart beating with Boseman’s. Their on screen chemistry was of the more endearing aspects of the film.

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey
Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey

As expected Harrison Ford performed. He perhaps meshed best with Helgeland’s script, for his character Branch Rickey, the Major League Baseball exec that introduced Robinson to the major leagues, fits quite naturally into the narrative that Helgeland seemed to be trying to construct. For some, the many tight shots of Ford delivering some clever or inspirational line may have come welcomed. For my part, I wished, but knew better than to expect, that the film did not so willfully shift the lens from Robinson’s personal journey to the supposed goodness of his white co-stars. Something missing from this film, other than a realistically written script, was a closer focus on Robinson as a hero for black America. The film follows a young black child, who we later find out goes onto be a major league player himself, but that connected needed to be stretched to the black communities in the time. The film suffered for not spending more time developing black characters, because American hero or not, Jackie Robinson is a hero to black Americans first. But this is to be expected, when the story is being told from a white man’s perspective. His treatment of race otherwise was better than I expected, and altogether very powerful in particular moments, due mostly to the talents of Boseman.

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson
Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson

Certain stories ought to be told. In all of it’s imperfections, 42 tells the story of an American hero, and for posterity’s sake, this film does its job.

Rating: 7.5/10


Django Unchained (2012)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is back, and with him he has brought a truly remarkable piece of work. Django Unchained is the story of Django Freeman, a slave who finds his freedom and sets out to find his wife, from whom he was tragically separated. In the spirit of the old western and also of classic slavery films like Roots Tarantino attempts not only to approach the nasty topic of slavery, but to compose a sort of epic tale of heroism for blacks, that has been curiously absent from cinema where this particular bit of history is concerned.

Like all of Tarantino’s films, the cast is wonderful and strange. In a line-up you wouldn’t quite understand how all of these actors and actresses fit together, but Tarantino’s perverted and imaginative methodology acts as a sort of equalizer. The film stars Jamie Foxx as the title character Django, Christoph Waltz as bounty hunter and retired dentist Dr. King Schultz, Kerry Washington as Django’s wife Broomhilda, Leonardo DiCaprio as plantation owner Calvin Candie, and Tarantino’s favorite player Samuel L. Jackson as the detestable Uncle Tom, Steven.

Unsurprisingly all of the actors gave astoundingly wonderful performances. Each character clearly represented an attitude

Jamie Foxx as Django
Jamie Foxx as Django

and point of view relevant to the time period, and each actor embodied that point of view with surgical precision. The pressure was on for Foxx, seeing as a western needs a strong, unique leading man whose charm and determination set the tone for the film. In this, I would say that Foxx succeeded. His was one of the more dialed back performances, despite the jarring violence he was charged with portraying. This quality juxtaposes nicely with Tarantino’s poppy, in your face style of storytelling. Waltz on the other hand showed the same indescribable charm that we saw in Inglorious Basterds. Dr. King Schultz, the

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda
Kerry Washington as Broomhilda

character, adds an interesting and foreign element to the slave story we are accustomed to hearing. Washington had very few lines, but astoundingly her performance was the strongest. She conveys more

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django
Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

emotion with her body and her countenance than most of the films actors do throughout. DiCaprio fits into this character role so naturally and vibrantly that it was almost theatre. You got the feeling that his portrayal of Calvin Candie was literally the character that Tarantino formed in his mind. Jackson was truly and unbearably horrid, which means of course that he did his job exactly. He has that ability, to step into a role and give it exactly what it needs. Overall, the cast was tuned perfectly. Even down to the peripheral characters.

Django, as a telling of a man who wants to find his wife, is powerful and beautiful. Django as a retelling of slave times, was not told gently, but rather brutally. It was told, in many ways, how it was, with frequent use

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie
Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

of the word “nigger” from both the white and black actors. The film included mandingo fighting, klan riots, whipping, scientific racism, slave trading, prostitution, and all manner of racial politics. While humorous in places, it was as honest a telling as can be expected from this director, and he did well with the subject matter. Django as a story that gives black people a western hero, was a success. Tarantino made a film that deals with the darker side of U.S. history, but also made a film that tells a story about black people, and black love, which is lacking outside of films made exclusively by black film makers.

As with most of his films, Tarantino injects style into every aspect of a film. The soundtrack was wonderfully various. The inclusion of a theme song, along with songs specially made for the film like Rick Ross’ 100 Black Coffins. Everything from the music to the font of the captions, to the schmaltzy close ups throughout the film. Everything Tarantino does works because he does it with such candor. With such a remarkable posture, it is hard to imagine Tarantino doing any wrong.

I could go on about how personally impressed I am with Tarantino’s ability to tell stories, but I would mostly like to impress upon you the importance of this particular story. Most films are attempting to tell stories that have already been told. With Django, Tarantino tells a new story in a new way. And this particular story is so needed.

Rating: 10/10

Looper (2012)

“Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been.”

Directed and written by Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson gives us his take on time travel in the recent film, Looper, featuring rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and old pro Bruce Willis. The film takes place in the year 2074, and from the onset we are informed by a disembodied voice, later attached to the protagonist Joe, that time travel will be invented three decades from his time and that when it is the risk-level of murdering a person and getting caught is very high. Therefore, mobsters from 30 years in the future send back their hits to the past where hired assassins like Joe, called loopers, kill them. The story takes a turn when Joe is tasked with killing his future self (Bruce Willis), or in looper jargon, “closing his loop.” SPOILERS LIE AHEAD, FRIENDS.

Breaking Bad director Rian Johnson does not disappoint with this film. The primary concern with films that take place in the future is that there is enough believability to remove the disconcerting effort, on the viewers part, of suspending disbelief. Johnson was able to succeed in that regard. The future that he constructs, 62 years from now, has biological, social, and technical advances that stem realistically from ones we are familiar with today. Johnson strategically plants plot points by incorporating certain advances that later become relevant in the film. His techniques are clear and effective, which are necessary qualities in a science fiction film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper

The story really gets rolling after all the nuances of the future are established. Us Breaking Bad fans were excited to see that Johnson couldn’t resist the gritty addition of a new drug to the futuristic world; a drug that Joe is addicted to. But beyond that small treat, things really ramped up (and got a little mixed up chronology-wise) when Joe seemingly failed to close his loop, or in other words, kill himself. We are originally presented with a scene wherein Joe is bested by his older self, who escapes without being killed. Then time is rewound and we see the original event, where Joe successfully closes his loop, goes on to live his life, and as his

Bruce Willis as old Joe and Qing Zu as Wife

older self witnesses the death of his wife by mobsters who were enlisted to close his loop and all other loops by a man called the ‘Rainmaker.’ Thereon Old Joe decides to change events and live in order to ensure the safety of his wife’s future. It’s not easy to follow, as we tend to think of time as completely linear and time travel fucks that all up, but Johnson makes relatively clean work of it.

From this point in the story there exists a conflict of interests between young and old Joe. Young Joe wants to secure his job and the next 30 years of his life, and old Joe wants to save his future by killing the young Rainmaker, before he/she can even become the Rainmaker. In a shuffle between the two young Joe accidentally obtained the coordinates of one of the children old Joe though might be the Rainmaker, and then the story takes an unexpected turn. One might event call it a twist. The rest of the film is a wonderful secret that can only be imparted through the privilege of viewing it (gotta draw the line somewhere!).

Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe

Fledgeling leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt was impressive as per usual. For those of us who swoon over him it was a bit difficult to adjust to the fact that it looked like Bruce Willis’ face had been copied and pasted onto his, but the desired effect of making them look like different versions of the same man was more or less achieved. Bruce Willis is always convincing as the brawny, but in love, ruggedly handsome older man. They both brought the required emotion, and I walked away believing that they were both Joe, and that they were both motivated by profound hurt and loss, which makes the ending very powerful.

Looper was a very solid time travel film, with an unexpected emotional twinge, and an ironic twist that gives new meaning to “breaking the cycle.”

Rating: 8/10

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

“You see things and you understand. You’re a wallflower.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the book, was written by American author Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the film, was written and directed by American author and director Stephen Chbosky. Here we have the wettest  of wet dreams for any literature/film lover, the ultimate prize: an author actually directing their own story. I still can’t believe it, myself. The story is one we think we know quite well. Logan Lerman plays protagonist Charlie, an introverted teenager who begins his freshman year of high school burdened with his ambiguous past, but hopeful for a new start. (Spoilers)

The film begins with Charlie anonymously writing a letter to an unidentified source. While this theme doesn’t continue on as consistently as it should, the viewer gets the feeling that these letters are the framework in which the story is being told. Charlie’s first connection is with his English teacher, Bill, played by Paul Rudd. Here, literature becomes an important theme, and one the continues throughout the film. Bill begins to give Charlie books outside of class assignments, on which Charlie writes essays. Some of these books were classics like, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and finally J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Ryewhich Bill gives to Henry to keep.

The Smiths

As relationships to adults in this film go, this particular one is the brightest and most benevolent, and it is offset by rather morose ones. Paul Rudd is believable, and as usual makes a remarkable and very fluid transition from comedy to drama. There was a very nice intellectual and cultural element to the film. Other than the numerous references to famous literary idols, music was rather significant. The Smiths in particular connected Sam and Charlie. They even get into some culty stuff with Rocky Horror Picture Show. I don’t know about you all, but I wish my friend and I would have put on lip-syncing productions of Rocky Horror in high school. For those of us who love Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Rocky Horror, and The Smiths, you will feel a tinge of satisfaction from all the scenes these things are celebrated in.

Sam: Welcome to the island of misfit toys.

The performances from the younger actors in this film were something of great fascination. After a brief interaction at a football game Charlie gets sucked into a whirlwind of teenage whimsy and happenstance with the flamboyantly gay Patrick (played by Ezra Miller) and the luminescent Sam (played by Emma Watson). The introduction of these characters prompts a boost in the film’s tempo and provokes a rapidly evolving chain of events that

Logan Lerman as “Charlie” and Emma Watson as “Sam”

eventually leads to revelatory events and confessions. The characters of Patrick and Sam, who are step-siblings, are crucial to Charlie’s growth, and, interestingly enough, his eventual unraveling. Ezra Miller, unknown to most audiences, gave a surprisingly emotional performance. Melancholy is something that most actors are trained to relate, but Patrick is a comedic character whose eventually is faced with a dilemma so destructive that even he dissolves into sadness. Miller’s portrayal of the wounded comedian is an expert one. Watson, on the other hand, also delivers a performance that deserves to be remarked upon. While her American accent isn’t all the way there yet, Watson manages an honest performance. Her character is idealized by Charlie, and through his eyes she is a goddess of sorts. There is one particular scene, wherein she is standing in the back of a moving truck, with her arms spread and her chest open. The idea is that she is supposed to seem ethereal, and she does indeed, most likely as a result of Watson’s ability to deliver captivating, yet subtle, emotion through stillness. Similarly to the performances of Miller and Watson, Lerman utterly transforms into Charlie. With every word or movement you felt his tension, his hesitation, his shame and his desperate hopes. His performance is uniquely captivating, because its familiarity prompts an espousing of empathy.

Sam: Why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?
Charlie: We accept the love we think we deserve.

All the stories within Charlie’s story become very important as the film progresses. First he witnesses his sister being hit by her boyfriend. Then he becomes aware of Patrick’s relationship with Craig, a football player whose true sexuality is a secret. Then Sam confides in him about being molested when she was younger, and all of this is told with intermediate ambiguous flashbacks of Charlie’s Aunt Helen whose mysterious presence in the storyline is unexplained and vaguely haunting for most of the film. Following these revelations things begin to unravel. There is a particular scene between Charlie and Patrick, where Patrick’s comedic facade finally disintegrates, and in a moment of

Ezra Miller as “Patrick” and Logan Lerman as “Charlie”

confused vulnerability he kisses Charlie. This scene is perhaps the most gentle and kind scene in the entire film. Afterwards he apologizes and embraces Charlie, who receives his embrace and assures him that it’s ‘okay’. Miller shines most in this scene, when the gravity of teenage blues bite down on young tongues and the triumph and folly of youth are magnified in an emotionally charged moment. These sad affairs all culminate in Charlie’s hospitalization, after his friends leave to college and he’s left alone with his nightmares, which we eventually come to understand as his being molested by his Aunt Helen when he was a child, and her subsequent death. Charlie’s pain, communicated masterfully through Lerman, was realized through his need to rid others of their pain. That it, the downside to being a wallflower: powerlessly observing the pain of others.

Charlie: Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here…

Possibly the best thing about this movie is that it does not belittle the troubles of young people. High school, adolescence, is arguably one of the most impactful times in any person’s life. In this way, Perks has a way of communicating a message so fundamental that the viewer cannot help but connect to it. Your story may not be the same, but the essence is the very same. Chbosky brings to life in this film what he brought to life with the book. He made something that taps into collective human trauma, and in doing so helped undo some of the knots that we sometimes have in our hearts. Some of our greatest quandaries are not from what we do not know, but from what we’ve known and never come to understand. Perks is pain and it is clarity.

Charlie: You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.

Rating: 8.9/10

The Pianist (2002)

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? It you tickle us, we we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” 

Roman Polanski’s Academy Award winning film, The Pianist

Interestingly enough, this brief recitation of Shakespeare was not nearly the most poetic moment in Roman Polanski’s portrayal of the life of Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist. This film, one that has received much critical acclaim, tells the tale of an artist living through the bottomless chasm of human suffering that was the Holocaust. What Polanski delivers is remarkable.

The film is based on Wladyslaw Szpilman’s book Death of a City. It is an auto-biographical account of Szpilman’s experience during WWII. The film is exceptional in that it manages to capture a Nazi occupied Poland, and the nature of the hardships experienced there while also preserving a separate spatial plane for understandings of incongruous things, like  family, souls, and music. In times of keen suffering life seems to be reduced to the baser things, such as hunger or shelter. The director and the actors do a wonderful job of communicating this.

The film begins with Szpilman playing the piano, and it ends similarly. However, all that is between is a cacophony of loss and grief. There is a certain rhythmic quality to the progression of the film, not unlike that of the piece Szpilman performs (Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Chopin) for Nazi Wilm Hosenfeld, who upon discovering Szpilman beseeches him to play. The loss of music was a theme that I think, while subdued, was almost as strong as the calamity surrounding it. There is a scene wherein Szpilman is in hiding, and his lodging has a piano that he cannot play for fear of being discovered. So he sits at the piano and pantomimes playing a glorious song. The passion and warmth is Brody’s jaundiced, bearded, hollow face were magnificent. The dutiful conviction Brody brings to this scene and countless others is in large part what makes this film seem real. His beginnings as a famous pianist were cool and deferential. Those qualities carried throughout the film, unhampered by tragedy and echoes of unrepentant diaspora.

Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman

Wladyslaw Szpilman: It’s a funny time to say this, but… 
Halina: What? 
Wladyslaw Szpilman: I wish I knew you better. 

Polanski’s decisive focus on peripheral characters was something of value. There is a scene where a woman is killed during a Jewish uprising. A Nazi shoots her in the back and she falls to the ground, dead and prostrating in front of a hospital. There’s another scene wherein a troupe of Nazis intimidate a small group of Jews, of varying ages, into dancing and singing. In another scene, or rather a string of scenes, a woman is wailing the words ‘why did I do it?’ and we come to find out that she smothered her own child while hiding from Nazis. Another scene shows a woman asking around for her husband; this woman appears several times, each time asking is anyone has seen her husband. It is these scenes that allow us to remain in the first person without losing the impact of the collective trauma. This is done quite gracefully by Polanski.

Captain Wilm Hosenfeld: Thank God, not me. He wants us to survive. Well, that’s what we have to believe. 

Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld

The ray of light in this film is awarded to Nazi Wilm Hosenfeld, who ensured Szpilman’s survival by feeding and concealing him. Whose very existence is a defense against cynicism and the inclination human beings have to parse the world into black or white, good or bad. Of all the things Polanski achieved in this film, just choosing to tell the story is the greatest achievement.

I haven’t tallied up the numbers, but the Holocaust has got to be the most common piece of subject matter where the art of film is concerned. I think it captivates us so in that it challenges everything we presume to know about life, and humankind. The gravity of shared horror is great enough to award the Holocaust a permanent spot in the archive of humanity. Polanski’s masterful representation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s story was one worth watching, and one that will touch you.

Rating: 9/10

Candy (2006)

“When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t.”

Stopping and starting and changing and losing and gaining and finding and being lost. All things that director Neil Armfield attempts to translate onto film with Candy, a film adaptation of author Luke Davies Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction. The film stars late actor, and man of legend, Heath Ledger.

Directed by Neil Armfield

Alongside Ledger is another couple of beloved Aussies, Abbie Cornish and our favorite old queen, Geoffrey Rush. Spoilers are drawing nigh.

Candy is the story of a young drug addicted poet named Dan (Heath Ledger) who falls in love with a young artist named Candy (Abbie Cornish). His drunk, vagrant charm draws her into a vortex of romance and heroine addiction. They’re relationship goes the way of destruction from then on.

Seeing as this film is based on a novel, I want to make it clear that I have not read said novel and can only judge the quality of the film alone. That being said, I thought that there was a cog missing. It may have been the dialouge, overwrought in places. Or maybe the pacing of the film, which seemed a bit rocky (which perhaps could have been a way to illustrate the nature of the main characters’ relationship). I enjoyed the story. I think it could have benefited from some added ingredients, such as a prelude (however brief) to the madness that was Dan and Candy’s relationship. An explanation, or even an ambiguous reference to Dan’s parentage and childhood. For a movie driven by characters there seemed to be too many missed opportunities to develop them. That, however, did not stop the cast from knocking it the fuck out of the park. So let’s begin with those brilliant bastards.

DanThere’s no going back. If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is. 

This film has a certain allure, for me at least, because it features a prematurely deceased, brilliant, actor whose skillfully crafted performances have been made more haunting since his departure. This particular film is resonant because Ledger died of a drug overdose, a fate that both Dan and Candy constantly face. Ledger’s performance was another great addition to the impressive, albeit incomplete, resume he left behind. Ledger has the skill of completely embedding himself into a character. He is the smallest doll in a matryoshka doll set, and his containers are all character. He makes the viewer feel as though they are witnessing a string of private moments. With posture like an old scarecrow and a smile faithfully crooked, Ledger was a clean white bed sheet strung up on a wall with the character of Dan swirling on a film reel nearby, projected plainly onto it.

Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger

Elaine Wyatt: What happened to that beautiful little girl? 
Candy: What happened? What happened? Can’t you see? Don’t you understand? I have been clenching my fucking fists since I was six years old!

Having not seen Abbie Cornish in any other leading role I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe my complete lack of expectations contributed to this, but she was brilliant. In terms of the script she was responsible for delivering some of the heavier dialogue, and she did so magnificently. She can do much more with a down-turned eye and cotton white panties than most actresses can do with full a make-up crew and a million dollar style budget.

Dan: Casper was like the dad you always wanted – the one who lets you have lollies and fizzy drink, who lets you stay up and watch the late night movies. 

Geoffrey Rush (Casper) as a homosexual heroine cook. It was brilliant, I must say. There’s something in all of us that needs to see Geoffrey Rush be a homosexual on screen, and the satisfaction from having finally seen it is my own personal “yellow jesus.” His character hints at something not entirely approached in the story, but the mystery adds to the impact of his fate, and to its affect on Dan.

Academy Award Winner Heath Ledger as Dan

There were shining scenes. The scenes when they were most intimate, which were enhanced by the fantastic connection between Ledger and Cornish. The withdrawal scenes. The scene when Dan is reading Candy’s story on the wall was a particularly powerful moment in the story. The film had some very precious moments.

But the film suffered at the hands of a director who did not properly judge which plot points to emphasize and which to let creep in slowly. Maybe even experimentation with chronology would have improved it; Armfield had all the pieces, he just didn’t know where to put them. Where Armfield did succeed was in terms of atmosphere. The film felt clenched, which is often a bi-product of first person narration, but Armfield made it as though the life Dan and Candy lead was the only life, save brief encounters with Candy’s parents when the couple looked sick and rattled by comparison. This spoke to the nature of addiction. The thrill and the hunt. The high and the low.

This film was best in it’s quietest scenes. Unfortunately Armfield didn’t always know when to be quiet.

Rating: 4/10

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

“If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it you shall kill the woman and the beast. Their blood will be upon them.”

Directed by David Fincher

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a film adaptation of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular Millennium Series, directed by The Social Network’s David Fincher. The film is unique in that it is not only adapted from a book, but also from the Swedish version of the film, directed by Niels Arden Oplev. I will try not to spoil too much, as I am a huge fan of the books and wouldn’t want to ruin them for anyone. (But I’ll totally ruin movies for you!)

Henrik Vanger: You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies. The most detestable collection of people that you will ever meet – my family.

The story is one of great intrigue and mystery. Lisbeth Salander is a young woman who works for a security company. She is an insanely skilled hacker, which lends itself to her job, and she is also a ward of the state. The story starts with her report of a investigation of journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Mikael is being charged with libel for making unsubstantiated claims against one wealthy and corrupt businessman Hans-Erik Wennerström. Eventually Lisbeth’s and Mikael’s paths cross and Mikael recruits Lisbeth to work on a murder investigation with him. Spoilers lie ahead.

Dragan Armansky: She’s different in every way. 

In this film newb actress Rooney Mara not only steps into the big shoes of Lisbeth Salander the character, but into the shoes of her predecessor, the powerhouse acting phenomena that is Noomi Rapace. Oplev’s films feature Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who was a mirror image of Salander’s on-paper character. Younger, less Swedish, actress Rooney Mara ended up doing what all smart actresses must do when cast in the role after someone great: make the character their own (it even got her an Oscar nom). Mara’s deadpan portrayal of Salander is spot on. It takes a subtle touch to successfully pull off the calculating, errant, apathetic, genius, pure laine survivor that is Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, but Mara comes very close and does it all with bleach blonde eyebrows.

Since Larsson’s story relies very heavily on plot, he provided film makers with a clear line of story progression. The pacing of the story is what makes it so exhilarating. I’ll start by saying that I feel that Oplev botched the pacing of the story. Fincher (along with Steven Zaillian) made some  disconcerting  alterations to the story line. But in terms of pacing, Fincher managed; at least enough to build the mystery a bit.

Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) and Erika Berger (Wright)

Daniel Craig is perfection in the role of Mikael Blomkvist. He and his beautiful smoldering blue eyes stayed very true to the character. The rest of the main cast, including the wonderful Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright, and Christopher Plummer all contributed greatly to the story, and honored the characters they were playing.

Martin Vanger: The fear of offending is stronger than the fear of pain. 

As for the story’s presentation, Fincher has a way of getting a littler bit too gimmicky and showy. The opening bit with Mara and Craig sort of gesticulating in what looks like liquid titanium was a little garish. The styling of Salander was a bit overplayed, considering she doesn’t really give a shit what she looks like I doubt she would go to the trouble of bleaching her eyebrows. Fincher leaned too much into the ‘psychopath goth chick’ thing. There’s a scene in the movie wherein Slander approaches her guardian Nils Bjurman (who violently raped her) and informs him not to fuck with her because she is crazy (“No, it’s okay. You can nod because it’s true. I am insane.”). Now, the character Lisbeth Salander would never say something simply to make an impression.

Academy Award Nominee Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

She says what she means, and she didn’t think she was crazy, so she would have never said that. Other than my nit-pick criticisms that stem from my love of the book I’d say that Fincher did a good job of capturing the mood. Through a collection of panoramic landscapes, a stream of seamless editing and deliberate and skilled performances on the part of all the film’s actors and actresses I’d say Fincher was a part of a worthy collection of talented people who were able to make a solid movie out of a great book.

The story retains its mystique in the American telling. The scenes most focused on the murder investigation being carried out by Salander and Blomkvist  are chilling and well-executed. Unfortunately, the journalistic logistics are half of this story and Fincher, in all his Lisbeth-enthusiasm, allowed the story

Lisbeth Salander (Mara) and Mikael Blomkvist (Craig)

to rely to heavily on her plotline (or rather the plotline she shared with Mikael), making Mikael’s secondary. The juxtaposition of the the orderly (albeit corrupt), vast, world of politics and journalism and the secluded town of Henrik Vanger, a cesspool of broken personal relationships, deceit, and unsolved mysteries is what balances the story and makes it work. So the imbalance of Fincher’s focus disturbed the story’s equilibrium.

My initial reaction to this film was a positive one. Mostly because I was overjoyed that it wasn’t as bad as the Swedish version. But after time to consider it, it wasn’t the movie it could have been, given the talent involved. That being said, it stands as something separate from the book and Oplev’s interpretation and it’s a good watch.

Rating: 6.9/10