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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: An Impeccably Stylish Thriller
The English language adaptation of the first book from Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millenium trilogy, which spawned three Swedish films, is a murder mystery filled with a group of highly reprehensible people. Mikael Blomkvist (Craig), a disgraced journalist, is hired to find a woman, Harriet Vanger, who has been missing for forty years. Assisted by a brilliant computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Mara), they uncover more about the case than anyone was counting on; ultimately connecting Harriet’s disappearance with a serial killer of women, and risking their lives at every turn.
Director David Fincher’s past as an iconic music video director - he directed some of Madonna’s best videos including the all time favourite, Express Yourself - is plainly evident here. The editing is timed perfectly with the music, and the title sequence is the kind of thing you’d expect from a Bond film; only edgier. It’s stylised and this only adds to the overall coolness that pervades the film. Style was obviously high on the list of priorities in producing this film; the editing is just one manifestation of that, while the soundtrack is another.
The soundtrack is what pushes this film from being a slightly above average thriller into something that is really worth seeing. Yes, it’s filmed beautifully - though it has to be said that the sheer amount of product placement is insanely distracting - and it’s cast with some really good actors, but the matching of the music with the images is really something special. It’s the dark, electronic take on the score that elevates the experience; it is icy cold, calculated and goes perfectly with Fincher’s blue toned, sterile imagery. The film as a whole is filled with cold characters, icy landscapes and a blue palette. Even its taglines - ‘Evil shall with evil be expelled’ and ‘What is hidden in snow, comes forth in the thaw’ - are frigid, and not to mention some of the best in recent memory.
The one enraging point in the film, and it’s major, is that Salander is just a supporting character. The focus on Salander is actually the one area where the Swedish version beats the American one; which is superior in nearly every other aspect though the former is quite solid as well.
Having Blomkvist as the lead makes this thriller somewhat conventional; Daniel Craig’s portrayal of him is hardly more than a bespectacled, divorced Bond – highly entertaining but nothing that we haven’t seen before. Salander on the other hand is completely new. How many times have you seen an antisocial, sexually fluid, tattooed, pierced, mohawked, female hacker in a film? Never. She deserves, not only to be seen, but to be the uncontested lead of the film. Besides Rooney Mara does a smashing job as Salander.
The books describe Salander as a waifish woman who looks like a teenage boy. She projects a tough, antisocial appearance with her choice of clothing, hairstyle and makeup yet, despite her best efforts, she still looks vulnerable and is underestimated often. Mara completely nails this combination of vulnerability and toughness; she’s frail enough to believe that people would take advantage of her, yet strong enough that retaliation doesn’t seem like a laughable prospect. She is Salander.
When you have a star this great, why take the road well travelled? And this is where the film is a bit disappointing; it’s pretty badass yet has all the trappings of a regular thriller when it could have been so much more. Films like these don’t come round that often so it‘s unfortunate to see an opportunity watered down like this.
Harrelson has a starry supporting cast backing him up made up of the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Ben Foster and Robin Wright Penn. Brie Larson plays Dave’s daughter Helen, and after him, she’s the best thing about the film. The relationship between the two runs on hate and scorn mixed with a twisted kind of love. It brings to mind the saying about how blood is thicker than water. How you can hate a family member so much and see them for the worthless scum that they are, yet still allow their opinions and words to affect you. It’s a toxic relationship, one of many in the film, yet it packs a punch that the others don’t.
The story is occasionally difficult to keep track of as it jumps abruptly from one topic to another, but Dave’s internal conflict is more compelling than anything the story throws at you. Dave and Helen’s scenes together are far more powerful and infinitely more interesting than any of the scenes in which he brandishes a gun or kicks a guy to a bloody pulp. The film has some fine camera work; it forgoes flashiness just for the sake of it and instead focuses on bringing the viewer in closer to the actors. It works with the actors to set the scenes’ mood instead of just framing them.
Ten-year-old Cataleya’s (Saldana) parents are murdered right in front of her by some Colombian gang members who are after a sim card full of important information. She manages to escape with the sim card and make her way over to her hit man uncle in Chicago with a burning desire to learn how to kill. She grows up into a lethal assassin working with her uncle for money and privately hunting down her parents’ killers for revenge.
Columbiana’s number one obstacle was presenting Zoe Saldana as a deadly killing machine instead of a prima ballerina. For the most part, her stunts rely less on hand-to-hand combat and more on guns and acrobatics, where she does a lot of jumping in and out of air vents and scaling buildings. These gymnastic situations are believable for an action hero with her figure.
However, during the final showdown, Cataleya more than holds her own in a fist fight with the guy that killed her parents and honestly, this scene wasn’t believable in the slightest, even for an action film. It was also barely coherent due to the rapid editing style that cuts before you can actually get a glimpse of what’s happening. The other action scenes were much more interesting with the standout being the gang of killers chasing after her to get the sim card in her possession. This chase incorporated parkour elements and was shot in a way that showcased the awesome jumps.
Saldana, despite her figure, is quite convincing as a distraught, tough-as-nails woman yet she does lack the sadistic streak that would make her character capable of these killings. Nonetheless, it is immensely gratifying to see a woman headlining an action film and kicking ass. In action films, women are usually relegated to the girlfriend role, yet Columbiana flips the script here and sticks Vartan in as Cataleya’s boyfriend, who pretty much only shows up for the sex scenes then waltzes off screen. On the other hand, while Colombiana pays lip service to feminism by including some very blatant ‘girl-power’ lines, Saldana is also stuck in her underwear for half of the film and is repeatedly filmed taking off her top. Talk about mixed messages.
On paper, this film is cool: despite some very obvious plot holes, the action sequences are fun. Still, all in all the film just doesn’t click; it takes itself too seriously. The only funny scene involved Saldana acting very, very drunk to get herself in a jail where one of the guys on her kill list is incarcerated. It was a bright spot of fun in a film that doesn’t even acknowledge its more ridiculous script and settings.
Zoe Saldana’s charisma not withstanding, Colombiana is the female equivalent of a Jason Statham film, i.e. badass but bland.