Monday, January 09, 2012

Because it's expected of me: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (USA)

These two movies have probably been reviewed to death, and there's other stuff to get to if I ever want this blog to be close to caught up, but having reviewed all three Swedish Millennium movies, as well as a metric ton of Sherlock Holmes flicks, well, it would be silly not to give these more than just TWIT capsule treatment.

(Note: Seeing that Scott Weinberg is going to be writing Asylum's next Megashark movie, maybe I should have pushed the "let me write your next Sherlock Holmes knockoff flick" angle much harder. I can't say I'm as good at it as Weinberg or even that I like Sherlock as much as he loves killer sharks, but I'm pretty damn sure I'd put more effort into it than the guy who wrote their first Sherlock Holmes movie!)

It's a bit of a weird circumstance that the Hollywood takes on both these franchises are coming out nearly simultaneously with other versions from across the Atlantic: In Sweden, all three of the books Stieg Larsson finished before his death were made into movies in rapid succession, all coming out during 2009 and making their way to the United States a year later with unusually high-profile bookings for subtitled R-rated movies. Meanwhile, the BBC has Sherlock on the air right now, making it a minor form of torture to read the Twitter feeds of people in the UK, as PBS won't be airing it as part of Masterpiece Mystery until May.

Thus far, both are better than the Hollywood versions, and it's interesting that both take liberties: Sherlock places Holmes in the present day, while the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or Men Who Hate Women) supposedly doesn't hew as close to its source material as the new version does. Funny thing, that, in that taking those sorts of liberties is usually something that Hollywood gets raked over the coals for.

It's also sort of funny to note that the American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is opening against movies that feature the stars of the Swedish version: Noomi Rapace is featured in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, while Michael Nyqvist is the villain in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. I remember being amused that Rapace was treating the US publicity work for her Lisbeth Salander as a sort of extended audition for Hollywood work, with the media cheering her on - nearly every interview seemed to contain some variation on not only was her English flawless and barely accented at all, but she was so cheerful and friendly as well! I hadn't realized Nyqvist was doing the same thing.

Speaking of accents, Rooney Mara's Swedish accent is weird. Not so much because she uses one or because it's inauthentic, but because practically the entire rest of the cast opts to go with a more neutral way of speaking, including (and maybe especially) native Swedes like Stellan Skarsgard. I actually prefer it that way - I figure that the characters are speaking their native language in a manner that suits that language, and if you're going to translate that into English, it should be presented in a way that suits that language. Consider another BBC mystery series, Wallander - it's also set in Sweden, but I don't think anybody from Kenneth Branagh as the title character on down affects an accent. That doesn't make it feel inauthentic, at least not nearly so much as making articulate people sound less so does.

One more point, but it's sort of a spoiler, so it goes after the EFC review links.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 December 2011 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, digital)

Part of the reason that Sherlock Holmes has persisted as a character for over a century is that he is much more flexible than he may first appear - get the basics right and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character is a good fit for just about any time period, style, and genre. The trouble with A Game of Shadows isn't so much that it's a buddy action/adventure with director Guy Ritchie's fingerprints all over it, or that liberties are taken with the canonical stories, but that the characters are a bit off, more clearly than in the same crew's 2009 film.

As was discovered at the end of that movie, there's an intelligence behind the crime in England, one Professor James Moriarty (James Harris). Consulting Detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is trying to find evidence via con artist Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), eventually hijacking the bachelor party of best friend John Watson (Jude Law) to follow up a lead with gypsy fortune-teller Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace). This sets them off on a chase through Europe as it becomes clear that Moriarty's plans are much greater than simply controlling crime in the London underworld.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes will recognize some of the things married writing team Michele & Kieran Mulroney throw into the script, picking up characters and elements from various Holmes stories and combining them to good effect. It's a fun story, growing from street crime to international conspiracies without the scale getting away from the film. There's a few fun action scenes, and the film actually outdoes the source material in one or two places, particularly in the scene many will know is coming when a certain Swiss village's name gets dropped early on.

Full review at EFC.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo '11

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 December 2012 in Somerville Theater #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Let's read significance into something tiny; after all, what else are you supposed to do when trying to review the second adaptation of the same novel to hit theaters in a two-year period? So, let's ponder that, while the Swedish film used the source novel's original title, "Men Who Hate Women", this one was going to use the name of the English translation, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" from the start, and that does (for better or worse) indicate a shift in the focus.

As before, we start not with the title character, but with Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a Stockholm investigative reporter who has just been convicted of libel. The fine he will pay empties his life savings and he steps down as publisher of the magazine Millennium, but he's offered another opportunity: Octogenarian billionaire Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) would like him to find out who killed his niece Harriet in 1966; the evidence suggests that it must have been some member of his family, a greedy and disreputable bunch even if you ignored the Nazi past of brother Frode (Steven Berkoff). Eventually, he gets a lead, and hires some help: Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a "researcher" for the security company that vetted Mikael for Henrik, an expert hacker for all that she's a troubled young woman.

Let's get back to that title thing again. It's a silly thing, but Men Who Hate Women puts the focus on the crime while The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about the people solving the crime. To a great extent, this is a distinction without a difference; the very best murder mysteries and crime thrillers, director David Fincher's Seven and Zodiac among them, are about both at once. Still, it's a shift in focus - both from the Swedish movie directed by Niels Arden Oplev and within this one - that hurts the film a bit. The middle section, where Blomkvist and Salander are investigating the disappearance of Harriet Salander and what turn out to be a slew of related crimes, is a snappy mystery story where we learn about our sleuths by how they attack their job and interact with each other. That kind of storytelling is, in a way, great slight of hand - the audience thinks it's getting obligatory plot mechanics but the cast and crew is doing their best work, getting characterization and mood across without being showy about it.

Full review at EFC.

SPOILERS! I should probably read the copy of the book I've got sitting on my shelf to see if it's just the American version of the movie being more faithful, but even if it is - the ending of the new movie seems really off to me, with Lisbeth envious and angry over Michael reuniting with his girlfriend. It's not so much that Lisbeth is getting upset over a man (though her bisexuality is basically "mostly gay, but can't resist Stieg Larsson Mikael Blomqvist") as it is that her story is not about romance or even attraction so much as trust: Blomqvist is the first person to treat her with respect and not hide her away. Romance, it seems, is decidedly beside the point.

Is it this way in the book? I suppose it explains why they're not closer in The Girl Who Played with Fire, but it seems to miss the point - what makes Lisbeth Salander such a great character is her competence and independence, and having our last image be of her getting all heartbroken over a guy is just wrong. !SRELIOPS

1 comment:

DF said...

Great review! One note: I'm pretty Frode is Vanger's lawyer, not his Nazi brother--that would be Harald. I'm pretty sure. Either way, yeah the ending is kind of off, but I'm pretty sure that is how it happens in the book. Salander finally let someone under her skin and in the end she feels like just another one of his flings. But yeah, I agree, the interesting part of her character lies in her aloofness and downright non-interest in making friends. Also in the book, she has a bigger relationship with her girlfriend of sorts, Miriam Wu, which is developed in the second book a bit more. As well as her reaction to Blomkvist getting back with Berger. Not sure it is one of Fincher's better films, but a good crime film adaptation. I just saw Zodiac for the first time last year and was absolutely blown away, while Se7en remains one of my faves!