The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo * * * *
Cert 18 158 mins
David Fincher treads very familiar waters with his version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
The hit Swedish version only came out in 2009, and its two sequels in the last 18 months, which means that Noomi Rapace’s definitive portrayal of androgynous Lisbeth Salander still remains fresh in the memory.
But Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zaillian have approached this as if they had never happened, looking to Stieg Larsson’s novel, the first in his Millennium Trilogy, solely as the source material.
Inevitably some of the shock value of Fincher’s project is diluted as audiences will probably be familiar with the plot and denouement from reading the book or seeing the first film.
But Fincher and Zaillian, who has an Oscar for Schindler’s List, are too skilled at their craft for this to be any less than a highly watchable experience.
The frigidity of the setting almost radiates from the screen and has permeated the characters, particularly the wealthy Vanger family, whose chilly disdain for each other and strangers to the island where they live in stylish isolation hides a fetid mass of secrets.
Fincher has kept the Swedish location but imported a cast of largely British, American and Canadian actors.
Daniel Craig slides comfortably into the role of Mikael Blomkvist, the disgraced (though one on the side of right as he lost a libel case to a shady billionaire industrialist) journalist hired by patriarch Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to find out what happened to his beloved great-niece, who inexplicably vanished 40 years earlier.
Blomkvist is, unknowingly at first, helped by hacker Lisbeth Salander.
An elfin figure covered in an armour of attitude, ink, piercings and the wardrobe of a punk teenage boy, she is moulded by past and continued abuses – which makes her the ideal avenging angel in a case involving acts of sickening violence towards women.
Rooney Mara is sufficiently physically different from Noomi Rapace to make the part her own, her hacked off fringe and bleached eyebrows giving her the look of an ethereal alien, the slightness of her build suggesting a misleading fragility.
It is she rather than Craig that takes on the more physical role, resorting quickly and efficiently to violence. It is also she who gets the cool motorbike to ride and is a technological genius, barely able to contain her frustration as she watches Blomkvist tap slowly on his keyboard.
They make an oddly compatible pair. But his protectiveness towards her is conflicted by their sexual attraction, and the fact that she is patently far more capable than him at taking care of herself.
Even in the rare instances when a man does get the upper hand, in a degrading rape that fully justifies the film’s 18 certificate, Lisbeth lives far enough outside society’s moral codes to exact equally brutal retribution.
As if to make up for the vileness of the characters inhabiting this world, the film is surprisingly attractive to look at.
Fincher maintains a steady tension throughout. He also adds his own tweaks to the twists at the end.
At more then two an half hours, it is a story that demands full attention, if only to keep track of the complicated Vanger family tree.
However, the addendums at the end do feel rather unnecessarily drawn out and like, the opening credits and the rape sequence, as if they could belong to another movie.
It is worthy addition to the Millennium canon and better than the two sequels. It will certainly appeal to the completists who have read the book, watched the series, and even, thanks to H&M’s Lisbeth Salander-inspired clothes collection, got the T-shirt. AJ
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol * * * *
Cert 12A, 133 mins
If only the two IMFs could combine, they might be able to solve the world’s financial crisis.
It needs an Impossible Missions Force, led by spy extraordinaire Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), to sort out the International Monetary Fund.
But first he needs to be sprung from a Moscow jail, with the help of fellow IMF agents Jane (Paula Patton) and Benji (Simon Pegg).
Pegg was one of the best things about the last film so it’s good to see his role beefed up. He’s still the nerdy tech expert, but he has passed his field exams so he gets to go out on missions and fire a gun.
Hunt has been freed to he can track down extremist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist – coincidentally, the original Blomkvist in the Tattoo films), who has stolen Russian nuclear launch codes and plans to set off a missile for reasons never properly explained.
When IMF boss Tom Wilkinson is killed, the team have to go it alone with no back-up, but they are helped by chief analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner).
It is well worth paying a little extra to watch Mission Impossible on Birmingham’s Giant Screen. The swirling aerial views of Budapest, the Kremlin and Mumbai are giddyingly good, but even better are the scenes in Dubai.
It’s enough to induce vertigo as Hunt hangs off the 130th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, using suction pad gloves. “Blue is glue, red is dead” is Benji’s handy way to explain the colour coding system.
These are just one example of the many cool gadgets on display, from face recognition software in contact lenses to a paperclip coated in isotopes and a levitating suit. Oh, and a sports car that shows up anything Bond drives.
The death-defying action scenes are genuinely exciting and tense. Effort has been made by the production team – which includes JJ Abrams and Cruise himself – to make the action original, so we get a chase in a sand storm and a fight in a car factory. It’s rather rubbing salt in the wounds of Birmingham’s destroyed motor industry that the factory is in India, though.
Director Brad Bird has so far only made animated movies, albeit excellent ones like The Incredibles and Ratatouille. But here he makes an accomplished move into live action films.
It’s not without a few flaws. While it’s pretty funny in places, especially thanks to Pegg, the dialogue can also be clichéd.
Hendricks is not on the screen much and his motive is weak. He’s a rather underpowered baddie, especially compared with Phillip Seymour Hoffman from Mission Impossible 3.
And of course there are holes in the plot – I doubt Russian generals are quite as short as Cruise – but let’s just go with the flow, eh?
Look out for the brief return of a couple of familiar faces.
Exciting, witty and action-packed, this is one of the best MI films. I’d say it was mission accomplished. RL
The Artist * * * *
Cert PG, 100mins
A black and white silent film, made in 2011 but made to look as if it’s contemporaneous to its 1930s setting, doesn’t sound particularly thrilling.
And it’s true, there’s not a great deal of action or dialogue in The Artist – but it’s mesmerising at times, nonetheless.
Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a dashing matinee idol and star of 1920s silent films. He and his fabulous dog make a great double act.
Bérénice Bejo is ambitious actress Peppy Miller, who is smitten by him when she plays an extra in one of his films. He encourages her but takes the potential romance no further, as he’s married.
But as her star rises and she moves from the chorus to leading roles, Valentine’s star falls with the advent of talking pictures.
“If that’s the future, you can have it,” he laughs at the very notion of talkies.
But he’s soon left behind as the studios stop making silent films.
Bejo is indeed peppy as the charismatic leading lady. There are some lovely, simple but effective moments, and it’s poignant and funny, too. It won’t hold everyone’s attention, but it’s not often that you can hear a pin drop in the cinema. RL
The Silence * * *
Cert 15, 114 mins
We watch, horrified, as a man rapes and kills an 11-year-old girl in a cornfield, driving off with her body to dump elsewhere and leaving her bicycle behind.
This happens in Germany in 1986, with the murder committed by Peer Sommer (Ulrich Thomsen) and witnessed by his reluctant partner in crime, Timo Freidrich (Wotan Wilke Mohring).
Timo packs his bags and moves away afterwards. But he is shocked when, 23 years later to the day, another girl goes missing and her bike is found in the same spot.
This well-shot crime drama is reminiscent of The Killing and Wallander, and indeed feels more like a TV serial than a film.
It’s confusing to begin with as we try to work out who everyone is, and it’s very slow. It builds to a tense and dramatic finale, but it takes far too long to get there. RL
* The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Mission Impossible are released on Boxing Day. The Silence plays Birmingham MAC on December 28-29 and The Artist is released on December 30.