Just watched the Swedish film adaptation of the first novel in Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, and it’s quite good, though very dark, and not for the faint of heart. There is a rumor of an American version coming out in 2012, which seems to be a pattern these days. Another very good Swedish film, “Let the Right One In,” is soon to be a Hollywood production as well, and “Brothers” was recently remade from the Swedish original. A reversal of creative juices is in the air. Bollywood once had a habit of churning out Hollywood movies in new form, but with the success of “Slumdog Millionaire,” I’m guessing the former British colony might do some colonizing on its own. Changes are all around us.
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a thriller and a murder mystery, with some social commentary and a bit of kick-ass feminism thrown in to boot. There are some rough moments where the gap between feminist subtext and possible exploitation gets a bit close, but the director, Niels Arden Oplev, generally avoids the trap. But what really caught my eye was the performance of Noomi Rapace as Lisa Salander, the deeply troubled young hacker with a terrible past, a past that runs parallel in some ways with the mystery of the lost girl at the heart of the first book and its adaptation.
Noomi’s performance seems all the more amazing after seeing her interviewed in the extras. She is nothing at all like the character she plays. She describes herself as very feminine, and said she trained for the film, losing weight, body fat, toughening up so she could play Salander almost like a boy. Often times in Hollywood, casting agents won’t stray too far from the normal personality of an actor. They look for types to fit the roles in question, not for actors who can undergo serious transformations. It must be different in Sweden. If I were casting for the role and used the American formula, I never would have chosen Noomi Rapace. It’s easy to see how hard she must have worked to completely remake herself, through gesture, posture, kinetics, bearing and the complex look on her face of vulnerability, fear and her own power to deliver vengeance.
Especially in the classic age of Hollywood glory, in the 30s and 40s, most of the famous stars back then, at least the male actors, tended to play themselves. It wasn’t until the Method actors came into their own that real transformations occurred. Cliff, Pacino, Brando, all changed drastically for each role. Lately, it seems that types are back in vogue, and there’s little in the way of protean evolution within each star turn. Few of our famous actors really even try to completely become their part, or let it take over their bodies, their spirits. Being a star is enough. There are exceptions, of course. Hilary Swank underwent what appeared to be deep changes for her roles in “Million Dollar Baby” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth,” Tilda Swinton in “Orlando,” and Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf also come to mind as major transformations of the self. Johnny Depp in the Pirate movies and Gary Oldman in “True Romance” are examples for male actors, but that side of the aisle seems to have fewer of them.
Noomi Rapace’s performance in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” rates with the best shape-shifting in recent years.