Tuesday, March 16, 2010

GIRL WITH DRAGON TATTOO arrives on-screen: year's best serial killer movie?

Granted, 2010 is young. Still, it's difficult to imagine a serial killer film any better, in many ways, than THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Män som hatar kvinnor), adapted by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg from the novel by the late journalist/novelist Stieg Larsson and directed by Niels Arden Oplev (shown below).  Taut, fraught and fascinatingly dense, the movie offers two of the most riveting performances to be found in this genre in a long while, both of which go far in making the film the success that it is.

Not having read the original novel, I can't say how closely the movie version adheres, only that it works -- and well.  Beginning like a house afire, it never lets up, although to be honest, its best moments by far fill the first half. Afterwards, though it never descends to the maladroit, The GWTDT becomes closer to pedestrian as it moves along,  offering up far too many genre cliches -- the rich and nasty family full of suspects (three photos below), naughty Nazis, the cliff-hanger climax, and -- ah, yes -- the villain who's down but not quite out.  Also, it's two-and-one-half hours long.

The movie's beginning is near perfect, as we are introduced to the two main characters: an enterprising journalist (above, right) suddenly made to seem a fraud and a young girl (below, right) on some kind of "parole" who must kowtow to her "guardian" (below, left). Fast-moving, giving us just enough time to ingest the necessary information, it sees to it that we're rooting for our twosome in no time, though we -- and one of them, in fact -- don't immediately understand their connection to each other.

There's a scene early on in the subway in which our heroine is menaced by a group of young thugs that could stand as a testament to director Oplev's talent. No wilting wallflower, the girl fights back fast and hard, and we're with her all the way.  The scene could go on longer, and it could be a lot meaner, too, giving vent to our sense of vigilante justice  Instead, it reaches its crescendo and then properly abates, offering us the information we need, plus a thrill or two, without ever going over the top in terms of violence.  Oplev informs and entertains but never becomes repetitive, boring or unduly exploitative.

Serial killer films -- particularly those that deal with young, abused women as victims -- are always exploitative by their very nature and often difficult to watch.  This one is no different, better or worse in that regard.  Being entertained by stories of young women mutilated and murdered has long lost its caché for some of us, no matter how stylishly handled or properly paced the director does it.  At least here, we are spared most of the in-the-moment violence but certainly not the visual or verbal after-effects.

The leading actors are all one could want for these two characters. In the title role Noomi Rapace (above left) is aces: strong, dark and mean, with just enough sadness and vulnerability to make up for her anger and violence.  As the journalist, Michael Nyquist (above, right) matches her moment for moment, mood for mood.  He's hard, too -- he's a guy, after all -- even so, he's softer than she.  They make a great pair, and when they finally begin working together to solve a decades-old mystery, the motor kicks in on all cylinders and keep gunning along -- until we realize, late in the game with some surprise, that it is powering a vehicle on its way to, uh-oh, the same old place.  (That's the trouble with so many of these thrillers: The mystery is much more fun & inventive than its solution.)

The players who support Ms Rapace and Mr. Nyquist are all fine, too, with Lena Endre (left), Peter Andersson (he's that "guardian" pictured above), Sven Bertil-Taube and Peter Haber especially noteworthy.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo opens in theaters across the country on Friday, March 19, with further openings to follows in the weeks to come.  You can check all playdates, cities and theaters here.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

hello, good review. one important thing though I have to contrare. the thing about the "young women in films being abused" (in different ways", well, the most different aspect of stieg larson (he was a feminist even) s story is how lisbeth is compeletely unique , in a long tradition of female victims, is _not_ a victim. thats like the main theme in all his books. shes the strongest of them all, and always, always fights back and try to avenge the less fierce opressors. so as a woman, even though some scenes are dark, i never cease to have faith in lisbeths power and it eases the darkness in these scenes bc you believe in her. thats why she is so loved i think, and thats why shes such a good (strong)heroine. regards,

James van Maanen, said...

Hi, Anon --
(Boy, there are so many of you with that same name out there!) I agree about the character of Lisbeth. That is one of the reasons we are so drawn to her -- and are even proud of her. But what about all the other victims of this particular serial killer? Whom we don't see being killed, I grant you, but we do see and hear about them afterward, and in great detail. This sort of thing -- violence against women -- is what draws a certain portion of the audience to these films, and I am sorry but it IS exploitative, though Girl w/Dragon Tattoo is less so than others of its genre.

If you are basing your comments on the book rather than the movie, see the movie and then weigh in with me on this point. But regarding Lisbeth, you're correct. She is a victim, certainly (at least during the earlier period that the movie does not show us but only hints at), but she is one who is able to rise above that status into a person who takes control of her life.

Tattoos Lover said...

Hi! Anon.. I accept this reality that film was not as perfect as we expected. Any way but there was no problem in the script of the film. It is based on novel 'Girl with dragon tattoo' It is really a mind blowing novel.

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James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, good. I appreciate the vote of confidence. And your comment is particularly timely, as I am about to leave this morning for a screening in Manhattan of the second film in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire. I'll try to have a review up next week, a day or two prior to the film's opening in NYC on July 9.