Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Foreign films can be difficult for some people to get into.  I sympathize.  The language barrier can impede the enjoyment of a lot of great films, unless you are able to read subtitles.  If you're moderately literate, then you have no excuse for your laziness.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the Swedish film adaptation of Steig Larsson's book, whose American title is the same as this movie's.  The Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, translates into "Men Who Hate Women."  I guess we can learn two things about this movie from its two titles.  One: this probably isn't about a female martial artist.  **Sigh.**  Two: judging from the Swedish title, this will be a comic romp that will finally introduce Swedish comedy to the world at large.  Get ready for two hours of Swedish Fish jokes and Swedish Chef impressions!  Bork bork bork!

Actually, this is a murder mystery that, for the sake of the mystery, I will just give you the background on.  Recently disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is hired by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the forty year-old disappearance of his niece, Harriet.  She disappeared from her island home on a day that the only bridge into town was blocked for twelve hours with no one entering or leaving the island.  Her body was never found, and she was never seen again; her last few hours alive are documented through some photographs of a parade that day, but that is basically the only clues that exist.  Henrik suspects a member of his own family for the murder; they are all heirs to the vast Vanger Corporation fortune, but the murder was probably not for monetary reasons.  The Vanger family has many secrets, though, including the fact that three out of the four eldest Vangers were Nazis.  Why does Henrik suspect his own family?  Because, for his birthday, Harriet always gave him a framed pressed flower; for the last forty years, somebody has been sending him similar framed pressed flowers from all over the globe on his birthday.  Knowing how cold and bitter his relatives are, Henrik has concluded that one of them is the killer and is taunting him.

What does this have to do with a dragon tattoo?  Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is a computer hacker that was hired by Vanger's people to check on Mikael before Henrik hired him.  Lisbeth believes that Mikael's recent disgrace was not his own doing, and thanks to her in-depth work, Henrik hires Mikael. Lisbeth is a little weird; she has the fashion sense of a Cure fan and the personality to match.  For whatever reason --- maybe she got a crush on Mikael when she was cyber-stalking him, I don't know --- she decides to hack into his computer and see what he's up to.  She discovers his files on Harriet's murder and decodes a clue.  Trying to be helpful but still Goth, she sends an anonymous email to Mikael with the clue; since he's a clever reporter, he finds a way to backtrack the email to her computer and asks her to help him with the case.  Together, they start to uncover details relating to not only Harriet's disappearance, but evidence pointing to the murders of several young local women over a forty year period.  Oh, and Lisbeth is the girl with the dragon tattoo, in case the word "Goth" didn't clue you in.

I haven't read the book this is based on yet, but I do have some experience with Swedish novels; in my experience, they tend to be pretty straightforward affairs, heavy on plot and relatively light on emotion and style.  That reliance on plot makes stories like this ideal for adapting to the big screen.  The director, Niels Arden Oplev, does a pretty good job telling the story, but I think I appreciated what he left out more than anything else.  This movie has some rape in it.  It's not an I Spit on Your Grave remake, by any means, but that doesn't change my attitude toward rape (for the record: I'm against it).  The rape scene is shot briefly and there is no real nudity, eroticism, or unnecessary grossness shown; it's an ugly act that the director knows the audience would rather see pass quickly, and he thankfully does so.

As far as the acting goes, I was pretty indifferent to Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace throughout the film.  I enjoyed the story, but felt that Nyqvust was particularly bland.  He wasn't awful, but he tended to work on just one level.  Rapace was better as the clearly disturbed Goth chick, but I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable with her mannish features.  I don't require every female lead in the movies I watch to be supermodel quality, but Rapace has some veiny neck and shoulder muscles, and I was a little creeped out.

This movie was probably better than it should have been.  Apparently, the Swedish film company that made this (and the adaptations for the book's two sequels) assumed that Dragon Tattoo would be the only one of the trilogy to be released in theaters; its popularity allowed all three to hit Swedish theaters in the last year and a half.  That intent implies that these movies were made for relatively small amounts of money, which would explain some of the supporting actor quality.  I thought the cinematography was uninspired, too, because mysteries are always ripe for some cool camera shots that subtly indicate the murderer.  Still, I found the story interesting and the director kept the plot moving, which was appreciated.  This was the best "locked room" mystery I have encountered in quite some time, and I thought the small town full of suspects was a pleasant reminder of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple stories. This is one foreign film that I think could be improved with a Hollywood remake, so I'm kind of psyched to see the Daniel Craig version next year.

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