The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, 2011)

If films like Zodiac and The Social Network have proved anything, it’s that David Fincher’s strengths remain vested in the procedural.  Working with Jeff Cronenweth’s chilly cinematography and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ collection of The Social Network’s B-Sides, David Fincher sustains a formidable command over the tonal nature of his film. Obsession becomes the prevalent theme that endures throughout The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as we view characters through a very meticulous and observational lens. Operatic in nature, Fincher’s ability to wrest tension out of the most mundane activities deserves its praises and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo realizes much of its suspense from moments of computer hacking and ill-conceived stakeouts. But if there’s one film from Fincher’s oeuvre that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is most familiar with, it would be his 1995 effort, Se7en.

Both Se7en and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo share a much darker edge to the nature of crime and obsession. Steve Zallian’s adaptation of Steig Larsson’s novel rather bluntly positions both Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) as characters shaped by their personal trauma, whereupon the film’s central mystery serves to feed into their obsessive desires. But despite the rather shoddy way in which the two characters initially come across, David Fincher’s attention to detail and efficient filmmaking carries The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in its duller opening stretches.

As the film takes shape and the mystery begins to unfold, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo shifts from an exercise of Fincher’s formal craftsmanship to a Rooney Mara showcase. Along with Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Mara gives one of the best performances of the year. There’s an incredible bravado and twinge of comedy that she brings to the role, wherein she delicately balances toughness and warmth. Her character is riddled with a great deal of feminist contradictions, but despite the inconsistencies in design, Mara infuses the character with so much needed vulnerability. It’s particularly remarkable given that she essentially evokes the greatest emotional reaction throughout the film, despite possessing the most gothic and radical of appearances.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo falters in a much of the same way a film like Se7en never achieved its possibilities. There are certain preoccupations that Zallian must contend with before he’s able to give the characters much to chew on, and despite the rather hokey twist of a mystery, the film can be surprisingly dense in actually reaching its conclusion. There’s a lot of emphasis on building the film’s twist into something plausible, which is unfortunate, because Fincher seems to be more comfortable in getting that sort of thing across visually. In one of Fincher’s finest moments, he cuts between Mara and Craig as they’re piecing together the mystery. Little dialogue is uttered, as Reznor and Ross’ score inhabits the space. Instead, we see the two go through hundreds of newspaper articles, cross-referencing search engines, and doubling back on that. It’s an incredibly tense scene that sets up the finale quite well and does so in a limited time frame.

The film’s other preoccupation stems from a friendship between Mara and Craig’s characters. It’s not given much narrative space, but the limited time that it does consume are among the film’s highlights. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo continues the same sort of stoic tone found in Fincher’s The Social Network, whereupon we analyze the world through a very frigid perspective. But when that perspective offers warmth, it serves to truly bring the whole picture together.

 Rating: 8/10

Cinema Chatter – Guesswork

Part of what enamors me about the whole concept of Oscar prognostication is the mystery of it all. It’s trying to separate between your own taste and those of a larger voting body. It’s attempting to understand the perspective of studios in terms of pushing one actor over another. There’s nothing artistic about the process; if anything, it strips the artistry of filmmaking to a science. The science can become repetitive and mind-numbing; at my recent prescreening of Young Adult, director Jason Reitman expressed fatigue when dealing with the press and pundits. After the disappointing performance of Up in the Air following a long festival campaign to push the film, it’s no wonder he has opted to pursue smaller individual venues to get the word out. It works for me; Young Adult is one of the year’s best films, and the whole experience of having him, writer Diablo Cody, and actor Patton Oswalt to do Q&A was terrific.

Just a year after Reitman’s Up in the Air fiasco, director David Fincher went all out on a press campaign for The Social Network. The film was critically lauded and looked to have had its Best Picture and Best Director wins sealed; that is until the Producers Guild of America awarded The King’s Speech instead. Things went south fast for The Social Network, so it’s no wonder Fincher has opted against any sort of awards campaign on his part for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

But as you can see on the updated sidebar, I’m thinking the film is going to play big. Like the Coens’ True Grit, I’m getting a sense that it’ll be the sort of late player that doesn’t have a wider buzz circulating around it until after its release. And perhaps this is a bold statement, but I’m thinking the film will be a larger commercial player than any of Spielberg’s films in the December timeframe.

Part of what makes this whole prognosticating thing a snap is that I’m working with historical data. When you have someone like Meryl Streep, who’s been nominated 16 times since 1979, it’s going to be likely that she’ll be nominated again given the weight of her role in The Iron Lady. Sight unseen, you’re taking a logical bet. Similarly, Steven Spielberg’s one-two punch with War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin lead me to believe that he’ll secure a nomination (for the former, though it’s not out of the question for the latter) for either Best Picture and/or Best Director. Numbers are on your side.

There are plenty of curveballs to throw you off though; there are typically one or two first-time nominees who enter the field. From there, you’re basing your information on others expectations, adding up praise and subtracting dismissals. One can attempt to create a formula to the whole affair, but then, there are those odd-ball nominations that simply come out of nowhere and can’t be justified (Tommy Lee Jones for In The Valley of Elah for one).

But as we wait for the upcoming New York Film Critics Circle to outline what will certainly alleviate confusion as to who are “contenders” (which will be followed by the National Board of Review’s top films), it’s all guesswork. And well, it’s the best time for this sort of thing; it’s probably the closest any Oscar pundit gets to actually implementing their own cinematic taste into the proceedings.

So for now, here’s my first stab at predicting the 2012 Academy Awards. It’ll be lots of fun to see how off I am come February 26.

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Director: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Best Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress: Viola Davis, The Help

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life

Best Supporting Actress: Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus

Best Writing (Adapted): The Descendants (Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash)

Best Writing (Original): The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Best Art Direction: Hugo

Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life

Best Costume Design: The Artist

Best Film Editing: The Artist

Best Makeup: The Iron Lady

Best Music (Original Score): War Horse

Best Music (Original Song): The Muppets 

Best Sound Editing: War Horse

Best Sound Mixing: The Adventures of Tintin

Best Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Animated Feature: The Adventures of Tintin

Best Documentary Feature: Tabloid

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation