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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of March 14 

Page 4 of 11

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO Think of it as the "close but no cigar" brand of cinema, where American adaptations of foreign hits prove to be better than expected yet don't quite trump their predecessors (e.g. Let Me In, The Departed). But now there's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which manages the impressive feat of emerging as superior to the internationally admired Swedish version from 2009. In many ways, this adheres closely to what audiences witnessed in the first version (both were based on the book by the late Stieg Larsson, the first installment in his Millennium trilogy). As before, two characters leading separate lives find their destinies intertwined: Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a punkish, bisexual computer expert who's suspicious of everyone around her, particularly men; and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a wrongly ostracized journalist who accepts a personal assignment from wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the decades-removed disappearance of his niece. Only when Mikael realizes he needs an assistant does Lisbeth enter his life, becoming unlikely allies as they solve the mystery together. The 2009 Swedish version is a fine film, but this one is nevertheless an improvement, right from the dazzling opening credits (perhaps the best I've seen during 2011) to an epilogue that's unexpectedly poignant. Director David Fincher works in a crisp, efficient manner, and while the original's Noomi Rapace made for a memorable heroine, Mara is even better, retaining this great character's steely resolve and unfiltered intelligence but confident enough to allow us to see the hurt child residing within. After helming the zeitgeist hit The Social Network, Fincher has been accused by some critics of slumming with this pulpy material, but I beg to differ. Just check out the climactic scene that's set to Enya's "Orinoco Flow" — perhaps not since Michael Mann employed Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" at the end of Manhunter has a filmmaker so imaginatively, and perversely, merged music with moving imagery. ***1/2

GONE Let's give this much credit to Gone: It plays it straight. In an era in which filmmakers come up with increasingly convoluted ways to trick audiences with all manner of daft plot pirouettes, this new thriller respects viewers enough to present the whodunit aspect in a manner that isn't insulting. (Semi-Spoiler Alert!) While its mystery proves easy to peg (it only takes one lingering and oddly angled shot to establish the identity of the villain), at least it's a break from the sort of dorky fare that has ensnared the likes of Johnny Depp and Halle Berry in the past — unbelievable yarns in which the protagonist had a split personality or imagined the whole film or started channeling Genghis Khan or what-have-you. This isn't to say that Gone is a brainy flick; on the contrary, the narrative leaps taken by scripter Allison Burnett are head-smackingly stupid. Her story, primarily culled from Kiss the Girls and The Silence of the Lambs, centers on Jill (Amanda Seyfried), a Portland, Oregon, resident who became the only person to successfully escape from a psychopath who likes to kidnap, torture and murder women. Unfortunately for Jill, there was never any evidence that she had been snatched or tortured, so the cops locked her up in a looney bin for a short period. Now a year later, she's convinced that her sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) has been nabbed by the same madman; since the police still believe that she's merely a delusional nutjob, it's up to her to save her sibling. Seyfried does solid work as a damaged woman who's fearful of the world around her, but Burnett's script is laughable in the manner in which Jill's search develops: This is the sort of film that relies on its heroine behaving exactly as necessary for the story to progress, and if she doesn't pick up on every single clue (some really reaching), then the plot would grind to a halt. Gone wasn't screened in advance for critics anywhere and opened to a desultory $4.8 million gross. Anybody interested in seeing it better head to the theater posthaste, because after a couple more weeks, this mediocre effort is sure to be gone, baby, gone. **

HAYWIRE Appeasing everyone from your grandmother to your little sister, director Steven Soderbergh has populated Haywire with hunks of every age, starting with 67-year-old Michael Douglas and running through 51-year-old Antonio Banderas, 40-year-old Ewan McGregor, 34-year-old Michael Fassbender and 31-year-old Channing Tatum before bottoming out with 24-year-old Michael Angarano. I suppose we should thank scripter Lem Dobbs for not fashioning a role for 19-year-old Taylor Lautner to complete the spectrum. Despite that dreamboat-heavy cast, this isn't a big-screen episode of Spartacus or a sequel to Gladiator, although its leading player is best known for TV's American Gladiators. That would be Gina Carano, the mixed martial arts fighter who made her mark in the arena usually under the moniker "Crush." As he did with Kentucky Fried Chicken manager Debbie Doebereiner in Bubble and porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, Soderbergh has again taken someone who hails from outside the realm of mainstream Hollywood and built a movie around her. In Carano's case, the limitations of the film aren't her fault: Admittedly, her emoting borders on the wooden side, but she does have charisma and a natural screen presence, neither of which should ever be underestimated. The plot of Haywire is nothing special: A government operative who has just successfully completed a mission gets betrayed by one (or more) of her colleagues and finds herself on the run. Carano displays some deft moves, Soderbergh directs in a cooly detached style (it's like A Dangerous Method for action junkies), and poor Channing Tatum is humbled as he emerges as the only one who's outacted by the MMA newbie. **1/2

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