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Noomi VS Rooney

The last movie my husband and I caught in the theaters in 2011 was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  I got the trilogy written by the late Stieg Larsson for my 2010 Christmas and instantly fell in love with the series and with the main character, Lisbeth Salander.  This was a damaged woman with a serious pair of brass balls and an iron will, a woman who I identified with in some ways, admired in others, and who I’d love to be friends with if she’d have me.  After I completed reading the trilogy, my husband and I watched the Swedish film trilogy starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth.  If you’re not familiar with this film series, you may recognize her name from Sherlock Holmes: Book of Shadows as she plays the gypsy Madam Simza Heron.

Watching Noomi on-screen in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was like watching Lisbeth be lifted off of the pages and placed on-screen; she managed to fully embody the character without any breaks in illusion or forced moments.  On becoming Lisbeth, Noomi said  “Lisbeth is a human being who’s suffered a lot. She needed to create her own world, her own set of rules, as the ones that exist haven’t helped her. She’s always been completely alone in her world, outside it she’s been vulnerable. [She] has locked away her emotions, her heart, to protect herself. Everything inside her is deeply rooted, and once she’s let someone in she’s incredibly faithful and loyal. She will fight to the death for what she believes in.”  She definitely dove deep inside this role to discover the inner workings of Lisbeth; throughout the entire trilogy, you are never watching Noomi play Lisbeth.  You are simply and beautifully watching Lisbeth Salander and her alone.

David Fincher, the director who took on the task of Americanizing this film, definitely had his work cut out for him.  Not only did he have to tackle a widely loved and successful book, but he also had to compete with an already brilliantly made film by Niels Arden Oplev.  Fincher cast Rooney Mara for the role of Lisbeth, a somewhat unknown actress who he had previously worked with in The Social Network.  Such a big deal was made in the media about Rooney’s drastic changes in “becoming Lisbeth,” including her choice to get her nipple pierced since it would add to the authentic and accurate feel of the film.  Judging from the reactions of most, I would say it worked and would expect Ms. Mara to have a great deal of success in her future if she is smart about her career.

It’s interesting to me to see different directors tackle the same project.  I preferred Fincher’s general casting choices over Oplev’s; Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist was much closer to what I pictured when I read the book rather than Oplev’s choice of Michael Nyqvist.  I enjoyed Fincher’s flashback sequences which were helpful without overloading the film or adding any confusion.  As far as the pacing of the films, I believe Oplev nailed it; he seemed to take his time while Fincher’s felt rushed, yet both films were around the same length.  Oplev stuck to Larsson’s word, while Fincher added a bit of creativity and tweaked a couple of things that threw me and didn’t seem to fit properly.  Fincher’s version was obviously easier to watch since it was in English, but it also sacrificed authenticity  when it shed the subtitles and the language.

The biggest difference and one that unquestionably puts Oplev’s version at the top is Lisbeth Salander, the woman who is at the center of the story.  I imagine it would be quite stressful to any actor to go through drastic physical changes and become a somewhat mentally unstable character who also manages to be borderline genius, who is a victim of sorts to rape and violence, but who refuses to remain a victim once the crime has been committed, a person who is endlessly complex but extremely guarded.  To become Lisbeth is to do much more than cut and dye your hair and learn to ride a motorcycle.  It’s more than a nipple piercing and an averted gaze.  It’s the difference between watching an actor play Lisbeth and just watching Lisbeth be Lisbeth.

Unfortunately for Rooney, she had to follow up Noomi’s breathtaking performance; had I never watched the Swedish version of the film, I imagine I would have been content with Fincher’s take on it.  I just didn’t believe Rooney as Lisbeth.  Some things weren’t quite her doing; the bleached eyebrows seemed a bit silly to me and some of the things they did with her hair didn’t match Lisbeth’s style and personality.  The performance itself was good but fell shy of being great; at times Rooney came off as acting like a bratty antisocial child rather than an introverted yet strong-willed woman.  At other times, Rooney looked out of place in the role as if she was extremely uncomfortable.  While Noomi managed to effortlessly exude beauty and sex appeal under the hardened image, Rooney either looked a bit too freakish or simply like a pretty girl playing Gothic dress-up.

Again, it’s quite possible that I’d feel totally different if I had never seen Oplev’s movie and was given Rooney as my first living version of Lisbeth.  I do hope that the movie is successful and Fincher signs on to complete the trilogy along with Rooney and the rest of the cast.  I encourage everyone to go catch the movie in theaters while it’s still out and hopefully it’ll peak your curiosity enough for you to read the books and/or watch the Swedish trilogy.  My Noomi/Rooney debate aside, I love a story with a strong female lead that isn’t drowning in Hollywood’s standard of beauty, typical gender roles, or anything else we’ve all seen time and time again.  The character of Lisbeth is one that is easy to fall in love with and I urge you to give her a chance.

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About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on January 3, 2012, in Fear, TV/Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I agree with you completely. If I had not seen the Swedish version, I could have taken Rooney as Lisbeth. No doubt in that. But the this is that Noomi was so well acting Lisbeth, for me, when I read the books, Lisbeth = Noomi. She is so real. And she herself is a Swed which makes a whole difference.

    Ave

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  3. Couldn’t agree more. Rooney was very good as Lisbeth, but you could tell she’s an actor playing the part. Noomi’s take on Salander was tremendously natural.

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