Happy Monday everyone! It’s been a pretty hectic week last week with freelance gigs, script updates, etc. There’s a hint of Spring (finally!) after such a long and pretty miserable Winter, in fact, we pretty much hibernated most weekends the past couple of months. Well, that gave us a chance to catch up on a bunch of new-to-me movies. Today I’ve got a pair of excellent, moody crime thrillers that both took place in the Winter months.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.
Directed by: David Fincher
Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian
For a while I sort of avoided this adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s crime novel (part of the Millennium trilogy), both the Swedish version and this English language version. I just thought it’d be too violent and that I wouldn’t enjoy it. But well, my hubby and I were in the mood for a good crime noir, and since we both liked Gone Girl, we thought we’d give this one a shot. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.
David Fincher is a master in building suspense even with relatively little action. I quite like Daniel Craig as the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who’s hired by a retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his grandniece Harriet. Vanger exposed some really strange family dynamics which lives up to his descriptions, and then some. The film took its time before Mikael and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) meets, as their story runs in parallel until their eventual meet-up.
I knew going into this that this is a violent film, especially dealing with brutal sexual assault and rape, but still, it’s quite harrowing to watch. The way Lisbeth retaliates for this brutality has that ‘wish fulfillment’ fantasy, as the wicked assailant has no idea who he’s dealing with. Mara’s transformation as Lisbeth is astounding and she completely lost herself in the role as the brilliant but antisocial hacker. I thought Mara’s a bit of an unusual choice to play her, but she pulled it off. Lisbeth is quite a mesmerizing and intimidating character, an undoubtedly challenging-but-flashy role every prominent actress would want to portray.
What I like most about this movie is the way the story unfolds. I actually like the deliberate, almost unhurried pace, but every moment is never without a sense of dread. Fincher’s direction is superb, using the setting (in Sweden and various Nordic countries) to great effect in conveying the perfect mood for the film. It’s the kind of mystery thriller that fully immerses you in the story and rewards your patience. Stellan Skarsgård is pretty memorable here as well in a quiet, but sinister role as Harriet’s brother.
I have to say though, the scenes towards the end with Lisbeth inhabiting a completely different persona as a femme fatale is feels a bit off from the rest of the film. The hurried pacing and more glamorous setting makes it feel like a Bond movie (with Lisbeth playing ‘Jane’ Bond) which is amusing given Craig’s casting. Honestly, it took me out of the movie a bit. I enjoyed watching the scenes, it’s just that the whole thing feels incredulous. Perhaps that is the point, Lisbeth going way out of her comfort zone to help someone she cares about.
Despite the gruesome scenes, I actually like this film enough that I might even rewatch it at some point. There are SO much details during the investigation that I likely missed a few things. It also got me intrigued to see the original Swedish versions starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth.
WIND RIVER (2017)
A veteran hunter helps an FBI agent investigate the murder of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American reservation.
Written & Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
After seeing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, my hubby and I are craving for more mystery thrillers. I was impressed by Taylor Sheridan‘s impressive writing in Sicario, but haven’t seen anything else he’s done since. Well, he’s definitely no ‘one hit wonder.’
The film opens with a card that says “inspired by true events,” which makes the scene that follows all the more excruciating to watch. A panic-stricken young woman is running in a vast snowy land on the Wind River Indian Reservation with barely enough clothing to survive the harsh climate. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), an expert tracker working for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agency, discovered her frozen body and alerted the FBI. The Feds sent a rookie agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) who arrived from Las Vegas and soon realized this case is way in over her head.
The unlikely partnership between Lambert and Banner is the core of the story and it’s intriguing to watch. The fact that Renner and Olsen worked together in Avengers: Age of Ultron two years prior is amusing, but it’s a testament to their acting that I quickly forgot about that fact as the film progressed. I love that Sheridan’s just as concerned with his characters as he is with solving a murder case, putting this film far and above a typical CSI or Law & Order’s ‘whodunnit’ episode. Soon we learn about Lambert’s past and why this case is so hugely personal to him. Sheridan also toys with our expectations, in a good way, in the way he presents the murder suspects. I’m also impressed by the skilled use of flashback to tell a crucial detail, without spoon-feeding the audience too much details. I also appreciate that the film is not gratuitously violent nor gory.
Renner is particularly strong here in a soulful, emotionally-grounded performance as a man who’ve been through hell and back. Lambert offers a nice contrast to the inexperienced Banner, teaching her the ropes without being condescending. Veteran character actor Graham Greene as the Tribal Police chief Ben plays a crucial role here. “This is the land of you’re on your own.” Ben sheds lights into how the Native American community like Wind River is marginalized and barely gets the attention they deserve, as evidenced by the lack of federal support Banner gets to solve this case. I like Jon Bernthal‘s casting as well which again toys with our expectations given the tough guy roles he often plays.
The desolate setting here is a character in itself, in which the location is pivotal to the story. It’s a bleak film to be sure, but a deeply engrossing one and it’s not without hope. That scene towards the end of Lambert and his friend Martin (Gil Birmingham) is a powerful one that ties well with an earlier scene after the girl’s body’s just discovered. I find myself engrossed in this slow-burn mystery, which also rewards your patience with a satisfying ending. I’d say it’s a pretty strong directorial debut from Sheridan, though it made me curious to see how the film would look like under someone like David Fincher. In any case, Sheridan is definitely a gifted writer and a promising director, I’m definitely keen on seeing more of his work in the future!
So have you seen either one of these films? I’d love to hear what you think!
15 thoughts on “Mini Reviews: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) + Wind River (2017)”
I really enjoyed Girl with Dragon Tattoo, liked it better than the original version and I think the film’s even better than the book. But you’re right about the ending, they totally rushed it and changed how the book ended. Might’ve worked better had they stuck with the book’s ending. Too bad Fincher never gets to do the sequels, but it seems he’s cursed after making Alien 3. All the sequels he’s tied to either has been cancelled or he was fired from project.
I really liked Wind River too but I thought Elizabeth Olsen was a miscast here, never really believed she’s an FBI agent.
Hi Ted! WOW better than the book, that is astounding. I’m still curious to see the Swedish original version of ‘Dragon Tattoo’ though, as I like Noomi Rapace. Yeah I wish Fincher gets to direct more films, he’s such a good director.
Ahah, I actually think Olsen is good for the role as she’s supposed to be a rookie, so you finding her unbelievable as an agent is a good thing as I think the townspeople do too. I mean that police chief was looking at her like ‘what’s SHE doing here?’ It speaks volumes to how much the Feds care about the Indigenous community when they send rookies to handle their case, y’know.
The book just has too many details that really didn’t amount to anything and movie just got right to the point. Repace was good in the original films but I thought the film itself wasn’t anything special. The original trilogy was made was a made for TV movies so it’s really fair to compare it to a Fincher film that cost around $90-100mil.
I get what Sheridan was trying to do with Olsen’s casting but she’s way too attractive and young for the role. That took me out of the story for a little.
Oops! I meant it’s NOT fair to compare the original trilogy to a very expensive Hollywood produced version. They were descent thrillers but they never reach their aspirations.
Ah ok I see what you’re saying. I didn’t realize the Swedish versions were made for TV movie, that made me more curious to see it, at least the first one.
2 amazing films. I kinda liked Fincher’s version of the film more than the other one though I want to see the rest of the trilogy. It’s a shame it didn’t do better business as I would’ve loved to see Fincher’s take on the entire trilogy. Wind River is severely underrated as I really thought it was a well-made thriller with a great cast.
Hey Steven! Wow so you like the Fincher version than the Swedish original? I am still curious to see the trilogy, as I usually find European indie films to be more authentic than Hollywood versions.
Yes, Wind River is severely underrated indeed. It’s such an excellent film that’s well-crafted all around.
I’ve never cared for the Dragon Tattoo films but I really liked Wind River, it was uncomfortable but so well done.
Ah you didn’t care for the Dragon Tattoo films, so you’ve seen the Swedish version too? Yeah Wind River is indeed well done, esp from a first time director, really impressive!
Wind River really took me for a loop, didn’t see ANY of it coming! Way more violent than I expected, but keeps you glued all the way through. I’d like to read more about the “true events” it was based on. Don’t forget that Fargo also said in its opening credits that everything in the movie really happened… ha, ha, NOT!
Hi Becky! Glad you’ve seen Wind River. Yes it was violent but not overly so I don’t think, and you know I can’t stand blood and gore. Well, I think in the case of Wind River, it says ‘inspired by true events’ and the writer/director was inspired by the fact that sexual violence against Native American women often go unreported (no stats are found on them) which inspired him to write the story. It’s so heartbreaking!
Cool, a “snow crime” double bill! I also really liked both movies about the same as you. I also really like the setting of Snow River, and Renner really feels like he has lived there for years. And Dragon Tattoo is really a piece of a “paperback novel story” elevated.
Hi Ian! Ahah yes, snow crime is right! I didn’t plan on reviewing both at the same time, it was just happenstance. It’s true, Renner seems like he fit the environment perfectly in Wind River. As for ‘Dragon Tattoo’ I think it really benefits from Fincher’s unflinching direction and moody setting.
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I’ve watched the English version of the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” just after I finished the first book. I must say I was disappointed. Maybe if I had watched the movie without reading the book I would have liked it. Then I decided to watch the Swedish movies. And I must say they are awesome! The characters are just as I imagined them to be. So, if you like the English version, I would totally recommend you to take a look a the Swedish one as well. You can also watch the 2nd and the 3rd part. I hope you’ll like them! 🙂