Monday, December 19, 2011
The Girl with the Dragon Subtitles
Too many words. About everything. The music is overwrought too.
SOMETIMES I REVIEW.... They're about to release a movie called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring the Brit stick named Daniel Craig. Doesn't give me much hope for its success. I've never seen an actor with less emotional range, including Finns I've reviewed in the past. His James Bond is sullen, humorless, and downright dreary. His subsequent Cowboys & Aliens effort cements him as a diminutive Brit version of Schwarzenegger's terminator, with a method acting tic or two offered up as evidence of empathy. If I were casting Hamlet, I'd pick Jason Stathem and even Vin Diesel over Daniel Craig for the eponymous role because of their greater capacity to connect emotionally with audiences. Are we clear?
But with all the hype I've seen for this movie, I finally broke one of my semi-cardinal rules and watched the Swedish original of which the Daniel Craig vehicle is a remake. The semi-cardinal rule has to do with subtitles. I don't like reading movies. Although the lady of the house has succeeded in getting me to watch subtitled Russian and German film classics, which has led to other abominations against my popcorn movie soul. I never do it for fun, but this time it was a calculation. There are now three of these movies featuring the same characters. and if they've convinced Hollywood to take a chance on doing something different, maybe there's something worth watching.
The good news? There is. The bad news? Hollywood -- even with abundant Brit help -- has no chance of doing it as well as the Swedes. The most extreme violence in this very dark movie is sexual, something Hollywood can't render truthfully or objectively, but only coyly and leeringly, or politically. It's central in this case, however. Rendered in Scandinavian terms, coldly and without blinking. And with very few words.
Same goes for the movie as a whole. I've seen the Daniel Craig trailer, which speaks the world to me. They're trying unusually hard to do a faithful remake, but even in the scene fragments they show, they feel compelled to explain and verbalize what the original merely shows without remark. And by casting a ham like Christopher Plummer in the pivotal plot role, we're guaranteed more scenery chewing than the original eschews so effectively.
Oh. Did I forget to tantalize you? Here's the teaser. A disgraced journalist is sentenced to a term in prison because he's been found guilty of criminal libel. He has six months before he has to begin serving his sentence. A mysterious third party hires a security firm to investigate him. An eccentric researcher (i.e., paid hacker) at that firm does the investigation and concludes that he was set up. The attorney who heard her conclusions arranges a meeting between the journalist and a tycoon who is harboring a secret sorrow. The beloved niece he regarded as a daughter disappeared in the 1960s without a trace. He suspects members of his own family, several of whom had Nazi ties during WWII. Now approaching death, he wants the mystery solved.
Meanwhile we learn that the eccentric researcher has a criminal past, a history of violence, and is on parole. A new parole officer begins to harass her sexually while she continues to follow the fate of the journalist she believes was set up.
So, yes, the journalist and the mysterious hacker do ultimately join forces to pursue the solution of a forty-year-old maybe crime, and there are twists and turns, and more twists, and additional turns, and emotional complications, and more violence, murder, and, of course, more turns and twists. Almost all of which are delivered to us in such matter-of-fact terms that some loony-tunes casting director got the wrong idea that a dead carp like Daniel Craig would be perfect for the male lead.
I don't see how he can be. The two key roles in this movie -- which is incredibly suspenseful and absorbing -- are complicated, contradictory characters. The journalist is both strong and weak. He's a bulldog in his profession but baffled and in denial about how to handle direct assaults on his person. The girl with the dragon tattoo is similarly afflicted, but neither an opposite nor a complement. She's a kind of perpendicular. As a hacker she's a relentless and thorough problem solver, driven not by ethics but outrage and obsession. Attacked in person, she is an archetypal and, when necessary, lethal Nemesis. But where the journalist is emotionally vulnerable, she wears an iron carapace of cold. Their work as a team is sometimes brilliantly effective and sometime tone deaf, on both sides.
Can Hollywood do justice to this? Can Daniel Craig? I doubt it. Let's not forget that Swedes know something about playwriting. Where Brits always think more words are the answer, Swedes think fewer are a better answer. There's a scene in the trailer up top which is, once again, very close to the original. Where Daniel Craig says "Put some clothes on. Get rid of your girlfriend," the Swedish version contains no such Brit ordering about. The dragon girl is already clothed, the journalist observes the girlfriend exiting the bedroom and asks if there is any coffee. Everybody, including us, knows what has been seen and WHY IT ISN'T IMPORTANT. Why the dragon girl eventually comes to trust him.
I actually appreciated the subtitles. So much is unsaid, unspoken, that it becomes easy to imagine the entire movie as a set of interior monologues for which subtitles are a graceful necessity.
I've avoided spoilers. If you can find a way (Netflix, etc), see the Swedish version.
Pretty sure you'll be as enthralled as I was.
P.S. On the other hand, here's what Americans do well:
Gina Carano. The Girl with the American Flag Tattoo.