45 YEARS (2015)

December 22, 2015

45 years Greetings again from the darkness. Relationships are messy and complicated. Even the best ones. Even those that last 45 years. Writer/director Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 2011) understands this and delivers a film not about older people, but instead about the secrets, the doubts and the regrets experienced by anyone and everyone who is part of a committed relationship. His message is delivered through the extraordinary performances of Tom Courteney and especially Charlotte Rampling.

Just four days prior to a planned party to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, the stillness and quiet of Geoff’s and Kate’s long-established familiarity is disrupted by the startling news that his girlfriend of 50 years ago has been discovered preserved in a Swiss glacier.  What could have been a simple blip on the radar turns out to be a slow revelation of true emotions that have clouded this marriage. Kate’s realization that her seemingly fine life is now undeniably tainted is gut-wrenching to behold.

Ms. Rampling’s performance is subtle and brilliant. The camera captures the whirlwind of emotions through her facial expressions and telling body language. She carries herself with grace and dignity, even as she emotes devastation. A scruffy Mr. Courteney seems oblivious to how deeply his reaction has wounded his wife, even as he dives more and more into the past … a journal, a slideshow, smoking cigarettes, a trip to the travel agency.

Haigh’s script and direction are such that the intimacy and personal pain is evident even in scenes that feature only one of the two leads. The lack of raised voices or outbursts belies the pain felt by both Geoff and Kate, and the pain is never more evident than when we finally reach the anniversary party. As Geoff delivers a rambling speech about the ups and downs of marriage, the camera equally captures the face of Kate as she expertly dons the façade required in public for those who are lost emotionally. The couple then dances to The Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and Kate’s faces hides little of her internal turmoil. Haigh ends with one of the most soul-crushing final shots one could ever expect to see. It’s the perfect ending to a dose of reality most of us hope to never experience.

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

December 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. The character of Lisbeth Salander absolutely fascinates me. That’s true whether we are discussing Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium trilogy novels, the Swedish film versions, or this latest film version from director David Fincher (The Social Network) and a screenplay from Steve Zaillian. It’s also true whether Lisbeth is played on screen by Noomi Rapace (Swedish films) or Rooney Mara. She is a brilliant character hiding in plain sight from a world that has fiercely mistreated her, and now misjudges and underestimates her. She is the oddest heroine I can recall … and I can’t get enough of her.

 Let’s start with the source material. Stieg Larsson’s books are far from perfect, but addictive just the same. The first book (on which this film is based) is, at its core, a traditional who-dunnit presented in a manner that is claustrophobic, paranoid and eerie. Moving on to this particular film, we find the director and screenplay holding the basic tone of the book and original films, while making a few changes … some minor, others more substantial. These changes may irk those fervent fans who are quite loyal to the books, but Fincher surely wanted to offer more than a simple re-telling of the story.

 Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist hired to solve the 40 year old mystery of the disappearance/murder of Harriet Vanger, niece to Swedish millionaire Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). To research, Blomkvist must dig into the Vanger’s rotten family tree of Nazis, anti-Semites, sexual predators, anti-social fanatics, and a few just plain loony birds. You can imagine how excited this rich and once powerful family is to have someone uncovering long buried secrets. Circumstances allow for Lisbeth to assist Blomkvist in researching this.

 Unlike many mysteries where assembling the clues is the most fun, the real heart of this story is the odd, somewhat uncomfortable developing relationship between Blomkvist and Lisbeth. This latest version allows this to develop relatively smoothly, but it nonetheless rattles our senses. We see the subtle changes in Lisbeth as she slowly opens up to the idea of a real friendship based on trust. Fear not mystery fans, the Vanger clan still provides more than enough juice to keep any film sleuth happy.

COMPARISON: It’s truly impossible to avoid comparisons between the two movie versions and the respective casts. It’s quite obvious Mr. Fincher was working with a substantially greater budget than Niels Arden Opler had for the first Swedish film. While they are both enthralling, I actually lean a bit towards the rawer original. That takes nothing away from this latest version. Same with Noomi Rapace vs. Rooney Mara. Ms. Mara is excellent in her performance and I was fully satisfied, though Ms. Rapace brought a rougher edge to the role … one that made it even tougher to crack that shell. The biggest difference in the casts is Daniel Craig against Michael Nyqvist. Mr. Craig is just a bit too cool for the role, while Nyqvist captured the insecurity and vulnerability that Larsson wrote about. To have two such strong film versions of the same story released so close together speaks to the strength of Fincher and Larsson.

 All of that is nit-picking. Both film versions are thrilling and sterling entertainment, and clearly the Fincher version will bring the story to a much wider audience. He even brought back Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to deliver another note-perfect score. I would encourage those that are interested to check out the Swedish version, as well as the Larsson books. Maybe you will join me in my fascination with this creature known as Lisbeth Salander.

note: this is an extremely harsh, dark film.  It includes brutal sex crimes, Nazism, animal cruelty and quite a few unlikeable, unsavory folks.  Heck, even the Swedish winter is jarring!

note 2: get there in time for the opening scene and credits. Reznor and Karen O (from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s) deliver a searing remake of Led Zeppelin’s classic “The Immigrant Song” … over some mesmerizing visuals.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the Larsson books and/or the original Swedish films OR you want to see one of the most original characters on film OR you are just looking for another reason to hate rich people

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you are looking for upbeat, light-hearted holiday entertainment OR you avoid movies featuring any, much less all, of the subjects in my note above

watch the trailer: