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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: David Fincher

Will Rooney Mara make a good Lisbeth Salander?

August 17, 2010 |  7:30 am


By now many of the arguments have been waged over the casting of Rooney Mara as the damaged hacker Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." She's brooding, but is she tough? She's attractive, but is she too attractive? She can do moody, but can she get expressive? It's nearly impossible to satisfy fans of a popular literary character: Pick a huge star and she comes freighted with her previous roles; take an unknown and fans ask, nervously, what she's done to deserve the promotion.

It's not easy, in other words, being David Fincher.

Given this dilemma, the director split the difference: He took an actress some of us may have seen, but not one we have too many preconceptions about, the best-known among a group of unknowns (but of course not unknown to him, what with the director observing her up-close as the female co-lead in his "The Social Network.")

Those us who watched the actress in "A Nightmare on Elm Street" may have seen some of the same glints that Fincher spotted, appreciating the restraint that could serve her well in a role otherwise susceptible to scenery-chewing. If she's a little mopey, it's probably better than being a little over the top.

There's also a quiet confidence that comes out in Mara's Nancy Holbrook character, the kind that lies carefully between passivity and hyperactivity. In a horror genre in which an actor's main skill generally involves running and shrieking, Mara conveyed fear in more subtle ways.

That quiet can also come off less as angry than as wide-eyed, a suggestion that she doesn't regard the world with the same suspicion as Noomi Rapace, who originated the role. That's probably giving rise to some of the toughness questions. But there are worse things than compensating for swagger with soul.

Maybe most fitting are the ways in which Mara's "Nightmare" character parallels the Salander one. In the horror remake, she's also a strong but lonerish type, and one who happens to team with a male counterpart to solve brutal crimes using shoe-leather research. And she does all this, for the most part, convincingly.

Fans who hold the Millennium trilogy dear and worry about a Katie-Holmes-in-Batman weak-link problem may also want to keep this in mind: Repeat actor-director relationships tend to work out over time. Burton and Depp, Scorsese and DeNiro/DiCaprio, Hitchcock and Grant/Stewart. If an A-list director can work with anyone he likes and chooses the very same person he just worked with, that's good news.

Fincher is no stranger to mining new talent, particularly of the Goth sort -- with "The Panic Room," after all, he gave Kristen Stewart one of her first big film roles. But don't let that example depress you. In 1995, Fincher took another relatively fresh face and put it front and center in a movie that became a beloved blockbuster. The actor was Brad Pitt, and that role in "Se7en" in many ways set the stage for the actor's career. Mara probably won't become one of the world's most famous faces, marry one of the world's other most famous faces and adopt a group of children from Africa. But she'll probably do fine just the same.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Rooney Mara in "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Credit: Warner Bros.


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The Lisbeth Salander actress: The girl with the impossible task

July 29, 2010 |  5:38 pm

Most eye-catching about the names being mentioned for the Lisbeth Salander role in David Fincher's English-language version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is just how little-known they all are.

The role would seem to require some deep and diverse acting experience; it is, after all, one of the more challenging parts to come along in a big commercial film for some time. At least as envisioned in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy and in the Swedish-language originals, Salander is a raven-haired beauty who's at once fierce and vulnerable, someone who betrays some serious emotional damage but who also can be the tough girl when it counts.

Even some of the top 20-something names out there don't seem to do the trick. Rumored candidate Natalie Portman, for all of her acting chops, just might be too fey. And it's hard for us to feel the Ellen Page of it, no matter how much running around dream worlds she's been doing lately.

You can probably get away with a little less vulnerability if you bring the requisite toughness, and so if you're going with a known name, the best actress, of all people, might be Jessica Alba or her ilk.

Alas, Fincher seems intent on going with an unknown. He's considering four actresses who are barely recognizable to American audiences. Would they work? Rooney Mara is the most familiar, and perhaps the most viable. She was impressive enough in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" reboot -- although, at least as articulated in that film, an ethereal presence as much as an angry one. (Of course she worked with Fincher on "Social Network," so if she has the chops for this, he'd be the first to know.)

Also in the mix is Léa Seydoux, a French national known for French-national roles in "Robin Hood" and "Inglourious Basterds." It was hard to get much of a sense of her in either, although as a member of the interrogated LaPadite family in "Basterd's" breathtaking opening scene, she at least showed that she can act convincingly in a tough spot.

The other two contenders, Sarah Snook and Sophie Lowe, are Australian actresses whose movies we haven't seen, although given the actresses who've emerged from that country in recent years (Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts, etc.) there are worse wells from which to draw.

Lisbeth Salander is a meaty role for any actress, so Fincher should have his pick. Then again, the A-listers have reason to give it a second thought: You're signing on for a potential trilogy, which can sap your schedule (and in Sweden, no less). And playing iconic book characters can be a losing game -- fans have their own vivid notions of how the character should appear (just ask Tom Hanks or Audrey Tautou about their experience with "The Da Vinci Code").

When a part is so tough, someone completely unfamiliar to American audiences could be the best choice -- a blank canvas is better than one partially filled. And it would, at least in the immediate aftermath of release, generate a new star. Let’s just hope it also generates a persuasive role.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Noomi Rapace in the Swedish-language "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Music Box Films


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Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

'The Social Network' as this fall's 'Hurt Locker'?

July 8, 2010 |  4:12 pm

It's probably too early to start handicapping fall awards movies, but probably not too early to predict that Sony's Aaron Sorkin-penned, David Fincher-directed "The Social Network" -- informally known as The Facebook Movie -- is going to be a hot-button film this fall.

Not just an awards contender, like Fincher's previous "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but the kind of movie that migrates to the news pages and gets people talking about film outside its fictional context, the way "The Hurt Locker," "Frost/Nixon" and "Syriana" did for their respective topics. Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow got commentators going about the rigors and ethics of war; this will get tongues wagging about the rigors and ethics of social media.

ZuckerThe first tangible sign of its cred came today, when the New York Film Festival took the unusual step of announcing the picture as its opening-night movie. The New York Film Festival almost always chooses highbrow, twee movies to kick off its fall festivities ("The Queen" and "The Class," among some recent examples), and although this selection may say something about the availability of distribution-ready art-house films, it also speaks volumes about how both a sober-minded festival jury and Sony view this picture.

In conjunction with the NYFF world-premiere announcement, there's also a new Social Network teaser trailer, which you can see here (no embed code yet). The spot audaciously uses nothing but messages typed into a faux Facebook page, though from the way the tone and sound ratchets up throughout the spot, you'd think Iran disarmament was at stake.

This anointing comes as the movie begins to make waves because of its depiction of former Harvard students and Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin and the early days of the site. As this is a movie about the founding of that company, you might think that Sony would want to market it on the immensely popular social-networking site, but on the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital blog, Kara Swisher writes that there won't be any Facebook movie ads on Facebook itself.

The reason, the post explains from both the Sony and Facebook points-of-view, is that Facebook policy requires approval of all ads that reference its brand, and Sony didn't want to cop to those conditions.

Of course, the talk about Facebook policy elides the more commonsensical point that, since it's likely that the film is not hugely complimentary to Zuckerberg and Saverin -- at the very least, the book on which it's based, Ben Mezrich's "The Accidental Billionaires," was the subject of some pretty strident criticism from the players it spotlighted -- it would give Facebook pause about taking an ad, policy or no policy. And besides, why would a movie that seeks to tell a hard-hitting story of Facebook want to look complicit with the site even if said site did want to accept its ads?

Guess Sony will have to settle for cable-news chatter, print stories, blog posts and tweets. There will be plenty of that.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mark Zuckerberg at Sun Valley, Idaho, this week. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press


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