Thursday, July 8, 2010

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" : Cool...Wow...Nasty

Are the thoughts inspired by this expertly-made film. This intense Swedish thriller-mystery is amazing, riveting. It also has 3 scenes of sexual assault, the worst being 2 minutes long (or so it felt). How did I deflate such a sad and upsetting moment? I offered my friend a stick of gum.
Really left themselves open for a "boy & his dog" joke, didn't they?

The basic story: a reporter is asked to solve a 40-year-old murder by the victim's hyper-wealthy uncle; he takes the case. But the scenic route is sometimes better, isn't it?

As "TGwtDT" begins, it plunges headfirst into, of all the things, Civil Law. In Europe, losing a defamation suit can land you jail time. That's exactly what happens to Mikael Blomkvist, a reporter whose expose on a billionaire has just blown up in his face. Disproving fraud and weapons trafficking claims, a court hits Mikael with a big fine and 90 days jail time. Embarrassed by the discredited story, MB meets the magazine's other owner-reporters at the holiday office party; one proposes he take a leave of absence. On Christmas. Isn't there always one jerk like that in the room?

One last time, Bjorn - where did you hide my prunes?

Shortly after doing the right thing by his co-workers, Mikael is approached by Henrik Vanger. The Vangers are clearly supposed to be Sweden's version of the Rockefellers, Astors, or Kennedys. The wealthy old man asks our clever lead to find out what happened to his niece 40 years earlier; his favorite relation simply vanished one day, and her murder was never solved. The pitch is fairly easy: I'll make you rich no matter what, and you don't have anything better to do before you have to report to jail. The right offer at the right time wins.

Nice mystery board, but those are seriously dorky shorts, pal.

Mikael's efforts eventually put him within the cross-hairs of Lisbeth Salander, an expert computer hacker and data-miner. Actually, even before Mikael was offered the job, she was hired by Vanger to determine his reliability as a person and an investigator. Lisbeth's history is mysterious, but her demeanor in the early scenes tells us all we need to know - she's quiet and anti-social, out-spoken but awkward in conversation, and dresses like a death-metal fan. As a security consultant, she's more comfortable giving factual comments than personal opinions. She's also completely compromised MB's computers, and knows his every email and plan.

NOT a fan of Van Morrison, I'm guessing.

The mystery that connects Mikael and Lisbeth is intriguing and well-executed. This is bolstered by solid-to-great acting from these various Swedes who were all unknown to me. Mikael, Lisbeth, and others are played in perfectly-understated ways. These are all characters who can tell you a lot by silence, or through a glance, or with a fleeting expression. It makes every moment of acting (sexual assault aside, of course) a pleasure to watch.

Better yet, this sort of writing and performance makes the audience actively engage in the story. A co-worker talks to Mikael - you can sense they were lovers, that something probably went wrong before. You can tell where Lisbeth's emotions really lie in the way she hesitates when asked a question, or the extreme caution in her response. It is so refreshing to find a movie that makes you think about what you're seeing! Although many pictures should motivate their viewers like this, it's really important in a mystery...

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" looks beautiful. Not the actual girl, mind you, but the film itself. The film stock, color filters, and shot choices are all excellent. Even though the on-screen action can be horrific, the cinematography is impressive. I don't know what to expect from Swedish vistas, but whether it's a mansion or a forest, it's all lovely.

My friend and I were both utterly dazzled by TGwtDT. Better still, her opinion was more informed than mine: my friend actually read the book this movie is based on (part one of a trilogy). She said that the novel was faithfully-adapted and strongly-executed as a motion picture. The director deserves a lot of credit overall, and I look forward to scanning through his CV soon. If you think you can enjoy the movie I've described, subtitles and all, then do yourself a big favor and watch it. I happily put down $10 to see this last week, and you can stream it off of Netflix as of this week; in no way do I regret paying to see it in a theater.

I'm also eager to watch the second film in this series, to be released in the US tomorrow, July 9th. Since it's only out in two NYC theaters - Cobble Hill and BAM, it'll be my first Brooklyn movie in nearly a decade. By the by, that gum trick totally worked; it relieved the on-screen ugliness like a magic charm.


  1. Great review! I really enjoyed the contrast between my expectations and thoughts and yours, it's always interesting to see "books made into movies" with someone who is a total cinephile but hasn't read the book, contrasted with a total bookworm who generally thinks most "books made into films" are poo. This one was NOT poo.

    I totally agree with your review above. The movie was well-directed and acted, and the plot stayed true to course both in tone and plot of the actual novel, without complicating the movie with unnecessary details (that appeared in the book, but carried no real weight).


  2. Thanks! It was a real pleasure - not just to have good company, but to have good *informed* company. Awesome.
    And I agree, usually movies are rather unkind to the books they're based on. Sometimes, like here and "The Princess Bride," they're faithful and entertaining all in their own right. But it's very hard to compare a 2 hour movie with a 300-page novel because of the differences in format, style, and what works in each.


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