Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Movie Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Reviewed: 2 April 2010

jamesintexas rating--**** (4 Stars = Highest Rating)

Restrained, yet unflinching. Brutal, yet elegantly told. Fresh, yet alien. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo could be a filmed version of a thriller from the pen of Thomas Harris, ala Manhunter (also known as Red Dragon), The Silence of the Lambs, or Hannibal. Instead, the late Swedish writer Stieg Larrson’s riveting story of a lost, possibly murdered girl, a wealthy family in a small country area only accessible via one bridge, and a disgraced journalist who meets his match in a brilliant, iconoclastic researcher transcends the entire genre, becomes a serious study of misogyny as well as corruption. And, in Sweden, of all places, a locale that I have rarely, if ever, seen depicted on film.

In short, Harriet Vanger, a sixteen-year-old girl and favorite niece of shipping magnate Uncle Henrik Vanger, disappeared from the island 40 years ago. Yet, every year on Harriet’s birthday, someone sends Henrik a pressed flower, haunting the old man, reminding him that Harriet’s body was never found. Due to an accident at the bridge on the day of Harriet’s disappearance, no one was able to get on or off of the island, meaning that the guilty party might be one of his family members, in town for their annual board meeting. Henrik, acutely aware of journalistic crusader Mikael Blomkvist’s recent public disgrace (and upcoming prison stint for libel against a powerful Swedish business leader), appeals to Blomkvist to look into the old case. Everyone is a suspect. Blomkvist must resign from his beloved Millenium Magazine (Blomkvist’s presence is damaging to the advertisers now that he is going to prison), so he agrees to leave Stockholm for this investigation in the country. Of course, while Blomkvist settles into Hedestad, a fictional town on the Swedish coast, home of the Vanger clan, he fights not only the bitter, unrelenting cold, but also out of focus photographs, incomplete memories, and a distinct feeling that someone does not want him digging around in the family history. While he searches for Harriet Vanger, Lisbeth Salander begins the film investigating him.

Lisbeth is a phenomenal researcher, a cyber-hacker who uses her incredible photographic memory and attention to detail (possibly a sufferer of Asperger’s Disease) to discover why Blomkvist lost his place in the journalistic world, being named guilty when he appears to have been set up. Lisbeth, a tattooed, spiky-necklaced, multi-pierced, chain-smoking twenty-four-year-old, proves a jarring sight to the client who hires her, but her sleuthing work is top-notch, earning her respect from her superiors at a security firm. Lisbeth lives life on her terms with her black hair often obscuring half of her face, moving guardedly around the subways and dark streets of Stockholm, evading harassment from random thugs, lashing out violence in response to violence, and meeting only with fellow cyber-hackers that give her the tools to penetrate any computer’s hard drive. Eventually, however, Lisbeth finds herself the hunted, as a new legally appointed guardian begins to overstep his role in controlling her paycheck and in essence, her life, and she is powerless to report his sexual advances. Without revealing much more, the two characters’ lives—Blomkvist and Salander—converge, joining forces to uncover the truth and what really happened to Harriet Vanger.

Praise must be lauded upon the lead actors. Both Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander come to life from the terrific, understated performances by Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace in complete synchronicity with their written characters; neither of them employs the showy, histrionic acting style that could have been ruined the tenor of this picture. The director made countless successful, restrained choices with plenty of medium to close-up shots of the actors, limiting the travelogue-type shots introducing the Swedish countryside. There are no extra scenes; everything propels the story forward. The score is effective; the cinematography, impressive. And the final shot? A wonderfully sly tip of the hat to Jonathan Demme and Anthony Hopkins’ Brando-esque walk-off, as Hannibal Lecter pursues Dr. Chilton. Really wonderful stuff.

Make no mistake—this film is dark, brutally violent, and disturbing. It says something about the construction of the film when a closing scene conversation between Lisbeth and her mother (played by Rapace’s actual mother) is as tense as some of the most violent, chase scenes in the film. The tension is held throughout, and the director, Niels Arden Oplev employs innovative and clear techniques to show us the computers, scanners, photographs, and archives constructed on computers in a way that seems innovative and fresh. I have rarely ever seen computers used in a movie in a way that resemble the MacBook upon which I type this review.

I recommend this film fully, with the only caveat being that there are scenes of intense and sustained violence. I found no difficulty reading the subtitles and following the action onscreen. Fans of The Silence of the Lambs, Zodiac, Seven, and other thrillers will find quite a bit to like in this film.

A word of caution to American director David Fincher or whomever else is considering updating The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo with American actors and re-filming it. This story, simply put, is rooted in Stockholm and the Upperlands of Sweden. Public transportation is essential to the story, as is coffee and the lack of gunplay (probably having to do with a more European approach to gun ownership). Lisbeth Salander is a groundbreaking, iconic role; Rapace’s performance is phenomenal, deserving of Academy Award consideration. Very few actresses could achieve what she does with this role. Her eyes dart around when she feels cornered, her walk conveys quite a bit about her character, her interactions with others display mechanisms built up to handle the abuse and worse her character has suffered. Without offending Kristen Stewart of Twilight, the current internet-rumored actress to play Lisbeth Salander, my question to any American director is ‘Why would you update this film?’ Put simply, it is a masterpiece, deserving of its own audience. Find another story.

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