Thursday, June 3, 2010
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ***1/2
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist,
Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Marika Lagercrant
Lena Endre, Björn Granat, Peter Andersson
A lesson in how to make a thriller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first entry in the film versions of the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium novels.
Remaining faithful to its paperback spirit, it relentlessly tries to turn each scene into the equivalent of an addictive page turner; therefore, it has a familiar structure, accumulating cliffhangers and a climax that makes sure you end up craving more.
Its twisty, noir inspired, plot finds its inspiration in the likeliest of sources: the teaming of the odd couple.
In this case it's Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Rapace). Blomkvist is a disgraced financial journalist who has just been sentenced to three months in jail after a scandalous libel suit involving a prominent industrialist (Stefan Sauk).
Salander is an introverted, goth, twenty something who specializes in hacking computers, hi-tech investigation and beating the crap out of people who abuse her (including her legal guardian played with disgusting sexual hunger by the sinister Andersson).
When Blomkvist is hired by octogenarian millionaire Henrik Vanger (Taube) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his niece Harriet, more than forty years before, he acquires an essential ally in Lisbeth.
How they meet is both part of the film's tendency to pull aces out of its sleeve and also one of its most fascinating propositions; for it wonders how much fate and determination have to do with this particular genre.
In the way the two main characters seem to reach out to each other, we are left trying to make sense about the way we influence our own perception.
Choices therefore are an essential part of the plot, "we choose who we are" exclaims Lisbeth as Mikael tries to understand her actions.
Yet this seemingly simple statement captures the major theme explored in the movie which is the primal human need to find itself by revisiting its history.
Instead of running away from things that have hurt them Mikael and Lisbeth appear to be drawn to the perpetuation of painful patterns.
Mikael hesitates for merely a second when asked by Vanger to take on a potentially dangerous case; is it his need to satiate his journalistic hunger with a good story or is he still unaware that his work can directly affect his life?
Lisbeth too is pulled by the force of Harriet's disappearance despite the eventual realization that she might be running into some of her own life experiences in the hellish process.
Is the author trying to give them catharsis by all means or does this path reek of masochism? If so can catharsis be related to masochism?
What results so compelling about the movie is that the central mystery they're trying to solve is half as intriguing as the mystery of who Mikael and Lisbeth are.
And considering that Harriet's disappearance is connected to Nazis, rape revenge, dark family traditions, corruption and fake evidence, you can imagine just how mysterious the people investigating it must be.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo owes itself mostly to the power of its great actors. Nyqvist is perfect as Mikael. His strange handsomeness contributes highly to make him likable in a way you just can't understand at first.
Full of self love, determination and an overcoming passion for his job he's the ultimate middle aged man.
Rapace's Lisbeth is an enigmatic creature made more appealing by her unconventional heroine qualities. Far from being an angel, she uses her own personal experiences to seek what might be an ultimate revenge on the men who wrong her (the Swedish title of the film is Men Who Hate Women) but more than a postmodern take on the action hero, Rapace makes Lisbeth someone completely human.
Her character is a complex hybrid of female empowerment and male fantasy. On one hand she's a rebel violent woman who takes justice on her own hands and has no problem going to bed with men or women.
The way she gets sex with Mikael out of the way halfway through the running time is a darkly funny moment in which the movie affirms to us that it has no concern for maintaining sexual tension...there are more important things to deal with here.
Yet Lisbeth is also an exciting male dream; the kick-ass woman who doesn't make a big deal out of sex and fulfills every cliché adolescent male dream.
How does Lisbeth reach a compromise between female identity and male fantasy is testament to Rapace's talents.
An incredibly exciting, if not entirely original thriller (there's not an overlapping of text, music and images montage it can resist) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo thrives in its ability to find new joys in traditional structures, with its moody cinematography, iconic star making performances and inventive direction it dares you not to feel refreshed by its familiarity.