Monday, August 23, 2010

New on Blu: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

| by Allan Stackhouse |

For a while, I couldn't stop hearing about hearing about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Remake this, casting that, etc. Now, with its recent release to Blu-ray, I was able to see for what all the hoopla was. The title is a bit of a mouthful (try it in Swedish) and the tattoo doesn't really have anything to do with the film. The film's original title is translated to “Men Who Hate Women” which is largely telling of the sentiment of some of the characters in this film. Despite the essentially non-descriptive title, the film provides an exciting foray into the mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger.

There are some very interesting characters in this film. First, Lisbeth Salander. She's one tough cookie – not only in her leather clad appearance but also in her mind and spirit. She takes on a whole group of thugs in a subway station all by herself. Quite unexpectedly, her probation officer forces her to perform fellatio on him so she can be given money for a new computer after the thugs broke her old one. I questioned her portrayal as a positive character based on her willingness to be attacked again by Bjurman. The writer tricks us into believing this but then reveals after the attack that she was filming the entire event the whole time. I absolutely adore this trick because there is nothing in the script that leads us to think she is going to set him up. This sequence truly shows her spirit and her will to survive. It may be to an extreme length but her strength visually manifests in the plot and the vengeance she brings down upon her attacker.

Mikael Blomkvist is also an interesting character. He's the other lead of the film and I'm tempted to say that he has more screen time than Lisbeth, which muddies the reason for the title. After being sentenced to jail for six months for libel, Mikael willingly agrees to help Henrik Vanger in his quest to find out who killed his niece, Harriet. I questioned this motivation because the character doesn't need any money. He is only proposed a curious offer, the rewards of which he doesn't appear to be desperate for since the conversation with his ex-wife makes no mention of financial consequences.

Further regarding the casting, I admire that this film casted its characters based solely on their acting skill. I'm not at all saying that it's better to cast normal looking people who can act but it certainly is a better option than casting Justin Timberlake.

The beginning of the third act occurs right on time at exactly the 1:49 mark. One of the film's best assets is its story with its major twists and turns and the ending delivers. In this act, we discover that Martin is the killer of the women whom Harriet wrote down. This is a wonderful narrative turn though because it reminds us, as the viewers, that we are not seeking the murderer of these women who Harriet identified, we are seeking Harriet.

Even in the revelation of the killer, the expected exposition is short. Martin is a frightening character because he does not linger in the moment of our hero's death, like in the original Batman series. Instead, he beats Mikael, explains his actions in a concise manner over scenes of him committing these acts, and proceeds to hoist Martin up by his neck to strangle him. In a film of lesser quality, Martin would have recited line after line of explanations and conclusions and reasons, etc. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not so sheepish; it gets to the point and moves on. It returns to the important conflict of the history: finding Harriet, which coincidentally is mentioned VERY briefly by Martin. The script does not point repeatedly point things out and expects us to be paying attention and not need reminders with all the lights of Las Vegas.

Regarding the American remake, I do understand the reason for its creation and I will give it my stamp of approval, unlike insert horror movie remake here. I'm sure the translator did an excellent job but the speed of speech did lose me at times. I found myself getting lost in the subtitles especially since I don't know any Swedish at all. An American remake will reach a much wider audience and will hopefully shave off some of the length of the unnecessary length of the film. Who knows if the film will actually be good but I understand the appeal ($$$) of bringing the story to a wider audience.

I've been hearing that Noomi Rapace has been catching everyone in Hollywood's attention. I cannot say from one film, despite her great performance, whether she is worthy of all this attention but I did like what she did her character.

As a film, I'd give this a four out of five. The story had some narrative twists that I'd normally expect to be lost or watered down from the change of medium. The film is somewhat indulgent with its 152 minute runtime (180 on the extended cut!) but I really enjoyed the film. I did have to take a break (or four) since the film was a heavier drama but this film really delivers in storytelling, characters, and heightened suspense. If there are fans of the book, I assume this length is to preserve as much of the 600 page book's events and structure as possible. I am thrilled to have seen this and am very excited to see the other two films in the series.

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