Tag Archives: Rooney Mara

The Social Network (2010) 3.43/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 92.9
Genre: Drama
Duration: 120 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake

“Creation myths need a devil.” The Social Network was hyped by some as one of the best films of all time on its release and actually, they just might have been right with this one. A master class in pacing and screenwriting, this story about the founding of Facebook and the man behind its creation is one of the most compelling films of the modern era. It may take dramatic license as it reconstructs the details of the personal and legal battles that followed the launch of the website but the result is as focused an examination of the digital generation as we’ve seen thus far.

Deeply sophisticated parallels are forensically drawn through the centre of this story as director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin intertwine Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to prominence with the traditional concept of social popularity while reflecting on the dynamic the latter shares with the new order. Characters and plot are richly conceived as the drama unfolds in Shakespearean proportions and by the time it’s all done, we feel we’ve been let in on something really special. Everyone involved acts their socks off but this film is built around the ever excellent Jesse Eisenberg’s sensational performance as Zuckerberg. It’s an intricate piece of work because much of the character’s thoughts and emotions occur very internally and are therefore left to the audience to infer. But thanks to an abundance of carefully orchestrated and delightfully timed micro-expressions, we do.

For a film which was largely built around an emotionally reserved protagonist, the score was always going to be important and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross respond to the challenge in resolute fashion with what could arguably be referred to as one of the best scores of the decade. Their subtly balanced electro-rock compositions are perfectly weighted to the different segments of the film and wonderfully carry the audience through the complex social worlds the characters inhabit. As they do in the script, the parallels present in the different compositions help to tie them together into one overarching score that feels as comprehensively part of the film as the cinematography or production design (which by the way were also just about the best we’ve seen in the last decade).

However, the final words of praise should be saved for Sorkin and in particular Fincher who craft this complex, multi-tiered tale into an astute study of the struggle for acceptance in the modern world. In the streamlined focus of the latter’s direction, the former’s writing found its perfect outlet as Sorkin’s potentially wearing indulgences are shorn away in favour of properly individuated character conceptions. Fincher doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to edit scripts but one look at the “behinds the scenes” footage of his writing meetings with Sorkin quickly reveals how he steered Sorkin’s lush script away from the pretentious self-glorification of something like The Newsroom.

But it’s Fincher’s overall command of the project that makes The Social Network such a magnificent experience. A low hum of anticipation builds through the picture, particularly during the early scenes, giving the audience a genuine feel for the magnitude of the project Zuckerberg was embarking on. It’s an implicit but irresistible feeling engineered through structure and Fincher’s impeccable understanding of how much distance to keep between his actors and the camera at all times. In those moments of revelation and/or accomplishment when this sensation actualises, we are witnessing the consolidation of truly mesmerising direction. The ultimate example being the arresting sequence in which Fincher parallels Zuckerberg’s facemash assault with the Phoenix Club’s first party of the fall semester in their mutual misogynistic glory. As a scene of pure drama, it is a peerless piece of impossibly sleek film-making and damn near the best sequence in modern cinema.

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The Winning Season (2009)

 

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Rating: The Good – 68.8
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sport
Duration: 104 mins
Director: James C. Strouse
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry

The Winning Season is a delightful little independent feature starring Sam Rockwell as a washed up basketball coach given the chance to coach ladies varsity basketball. It starts off as a standard if not predictable comedy but quickly takes a turn for the softly dramatic and that’s when the film sinks its hooks. Rockwell has been funnier but it’s his natural charm and the rapport he develops with the young girls (played ably by among others Rooney Mara, Emma Stone, & Shareeka Epps) that keeps this movie ticking over.

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Side Effects (2013) 4.29/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76.4
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Duration: 106 mins
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum

The only thing more impressive than the number of films Steven Soderbergh has churned out these last few years is the quality of those films. In Side Effects, Jude Law stars as a psychiatrist whose professional reputation is put in jeopardy when one of his patients (Rooney Mara) murders her husband (Channing Tatum) while taking a new anti-depressant he prescribed. When the prosecution ask him to declare that she was legally aware of what she was doing he takes the riskier option of supporting her defence that she was in fact sleepwalking in a medicine-induced state. But as his personal life and practice begin to crumble under the weight of outside scrutiny, his own investigations reveal something else.

Side Effects is a deep black psychological thriller immensely sophisticated in its construction and elegantly directed. The plot is sharply devious twisting away from the audiences’ expectations right up to the final scene but maintaining a fascinating edge of mystery that thoroughly engrosses the audience. However, what’s most impressive is how Soderbergh manages to delve into the mindset of his female protagonist and paint a chilling picture of depression as he goes. That the script is (by Hollywood standards) informed and respectful of the different dimensions to the disorder makes this all the more substantial and that he and Scott Z. Burns seamlessly weave each of these dimensions into the plot is just plain showing off. The film even manages to take an oblique look at the culture of psychopharmaceutical use by tying a rather perceptive commentary into the main trust of the narrative.

This all works on a number of levels because not only does it capture the nuances of depression but through Mara’s insightful and penetrative performance, it sets a comprehensively dark and haunting tone to the proceedings. These tones are mirrored in the equally impressive Jude Law’s desperation as the mysterious net closes in on him. Alongside the two strong central performances, is a devilish Catherine Zeta Jones whose delicious cadences and overall presence lends to Soderbergh’s angular approach in rich and rewarding manner.

From a directorial point of view, Side Effects has all the hallmarks of Soderbergh’s slickest films as he overlaps dialogue and scene repeatedly in the early stages to tell the backstory more swiftly and again in the later stages to let the audience catch up. Burns’ script is his usual brand of personally and technically informed dialogue and he moves the complexities of the plot forward with deliberate pace. Despite this, Side Effects is a far slower movie than most will expect and though it accentuates the moodier tones to the story, it will not float everyone’s boat. Furthermore, the darkness of the earlier scenes while also integral might repel those looking for a straightforward thriller. But if you stick with it and take Soderbergh and co. up on their invitation to dig deeper, there are unconventional rewards to be unearthed. Clever in its simplicity, powerful in its execution and respectful of its subject matter, Side Effects is a tour de force in movie thrills and directorial class.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) 3.47/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.9
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Duration: 158 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

With Zodiac and particularly The Social Network, David Fincher was proving that he was maturing beyond the edgy young talent who created Fight Club and Seven to a genuinely masterful and commanding director. Thus, when news broke that he was going to remake Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo only two years after the Swedish adaptation, one could be forgiven for assuming he had a dramatic reinterpretation in mind. After all, the book was hardly literary perfection and the Swedish film had already and very recently presented a faithful adaptation. Add to that Fincher’s own claim that this movie would be his “Chinatown” and there was reason to be very excited indeed. Of course, Fincher was never a writer but he certainly imposes his style on the structuring of his films and he’s demonstrated on numerous occasions that he should have the sensibilities to spot the weaker elements to the Larsson story.

Surprisingly, Fincher and writer Steven Zaillian had no such reinterpretation in mind but as it turns out, that’s not what this story needed. What it needed was a sophisticated story teller who could plum the rich depths which the book only ever really pointed towards. And that’s exactly what Fincher did. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an ultra slick and cinematically luscious version of the original adaptation which embraces the more idiosyncratic nature of the original story but gives it a steely focus. Like the book and the original adaptation, the three main plots (Lisbeth Salander’s ordeal with her new guardian; Blomkvist’s search for Harriet Vagner’s killer; and his quest to prove his innocence in the liable case) are all present and run in parallel to each other linked through the same overt manoeuvres used by the book. We have the same ‘false’ final act (including the bizarre shift in gears towards popcorn serial killer movie mode) followed by the actual final act where the most interesting plot conclusion is wrapped up in a mere 15 minutes. Given the sprawling and eccentric nature of the story, one might wonder how Fincher turned this into the focused and immersive experience it is. The answer lies in the force of Fincher’s vision and the meticulous craftsmanship which it stimulated from every corner of the film-making process.

From Fincher’s perceptive framing and composition to Rooney Mara’s electric portrayal of the disturbed young woman at the centre of the story, this film is immaculate in its execution. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ scene-bridging score is softly energetic and combined with Kirk Baxter’s and Angus Wall’s editing, it commendably ties the various and not always complementary subplots together so that Fincher’s steady, unerring, and magnetic momentum is maintained. Under the auspices of Fincher’s commanding direction, Jeff Cronenweth’s polished cinematography and Donald Graham Burt’s rich yet stark production design lure us into Larsson’s depraved world of corporate corruption, rape, and serial murderers to the point that we don’t mind being there –  a rare achievement. The acting is first class throughout with Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist being a fine counterpoint to Mara’s lethally focused Salander while Zaillian’s screenplay seems to add layers of intrigue to every last one of the characters. Combined, these forces seem to imbue the film with a richness and substance that bootstraps the story onto another plane.

For all its focus, there are some peculiarities which require addressing. In this day and age, when audiences are used to reading subtitles even on television shows (many of them Scandinavian), the decision to set and partially shoot this film in Sweden but have American, English, Canadian, and even Swedish actors all speaking English in Swedish-ish accents is a little perplexing. Some might argue that the use of English and consequent lack of subtitles is a plus but, from an intellectual point of view, that’s difficult to defend. The question must be asked therefore, if the film must be shot in English, could it not have been set in northern Canada where a similar geographical and meteorological atmosphere to the book could be maintained? After all, the themes addressed here are universal and not distinctly Swedish.

In the final analysis, Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an eminently slick thriller and a marvelous piece of entertainment. It’s easily one of the better thrillers of 2011 and may even be one of the better thrillers in recent decades. More importantly, however, it is a testament to the power of a great director working over a talented cast and crew.

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