Monday, April 19, 2010

Swedish Schlock: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

What an odd weekend at the movies. First, I wasn’t outraged by Kick-Ass and now I’m confronted with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in which there is not one, not two, but three completely unnecessary scenes of sexual assault and rape that are dropped in to the first half of what is just a standard serial-killer mystery. It’s almost as if some higher power needed to make sure my sense of moral indignation still worked. There is no reason for these rape scenes other than that they can be found in the bestselling book by the same name from the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. In print, though they are just as unnecessary, they can be skipped or skimmed. Although I still found them off-putting in my reading experience, I still managed to finish the book. (I feel like an outlier when I say I found the novel to be just “okay” overall). Literalized and dramatized on the screen, they are uncomfortable and ultimately unbearable. I loathed them with an intense fury.

I suppose the movie rebounds from such miserable lows about as well as any movie could. It helps when the basic story is fairly solid. In this Swedish thriller there’s a disgraced journalist (Michael Nyqvist), who’s hired by an elderly tycoon (Sven-Bertil Taube) to research the 40-year-old unsolved disappearance of his niece, and there’s a slim, tattooed and pierced hacker (Noomi Rapace) who crosses his path and may or may not help them solve the case. It’s thrilling at times, even exciting at least once, but mostly it’s a jumble of names, documents and photographs that we’re told point towards a mystery’s solution. This all works on the page where there is room to develop such a mystery and let us simmer in the details, but director Niels Arden Oplev leaves nothing untold that could, and usually will, be shown. It’s a depressingly literal-minded adaptation from screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg that isn’t helped by such square direction.

If there’s any material that could soar with all kinds of impressive filmmaking, it’s mysteries involving missing persons and scary murders. Look at Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs for two fairly recent (to the extent the 90’s are still recent) examples. They share only a similar desire to scare and shock while delighting audiences with a slowly unraveling mystery. Here, the movie is content to plod and drag along for well over two hours, constantly allowing characters to endlessly speechify, reminisce, and explicate. It moves at such a relentlessly grinding pace that I felt worn down by the dullness of it all. At least when I was being repulsed by the film I was feeling something. It’s a film to endure more than it is a film to see.

Here’s hoping that the forthcoming American remake does something more exciting with this material. Maybe less devotion to the source material is called for. But is it too much to ask that the studio tries to get Noomi Rapace for the same role? Here she plays an interesting character interestingly, and yet is constantly undermined by a film that doesn’t realize how awesome a character she could be. But that’s the film’s nature: to constantly make ordinary what could be extra. Unless, of course, that extra involves rape.

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