September 27, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

(AKA Män som hatar kvinnor - "Men Who Hate Women")

"A journalist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing - or dead - for forty years by a young female hacker."

Since I'm in a defending Swedish movies mood, I decided to watch all three of the "Millennium Trilogy" DVDs, based on the novels by Stieg Larsson, back to back. Sadly, just like "Let the Right One In", there are remakes on the horizon which nobody sane should ever want to watch so I advise you to pick these titles up now before all the confusion and online fighting sets in.

I know I'm a bit late reviewing "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", but to be perfectly honest (as I always am), from the description on the IMDb, it didn't sound like something I would be interested in. The funny thing was that every time I went to post an Amazon link to this blog, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" kept popping up first in the affiliate link iframe so eventually it wore me down enough to give it a try. I added it to my Netflix queue, fell asleep watching it online, and then decided to get the DVD because it was actually very good. I just couldn't be bothered with all that "buffering" nonsense from the Netflix stream and wanted to watch this on the big telly anyway.

I also acquired the two "made for TV" sequels starring the same actors but with a change of director and screenwriter. The less said about them the better really as, although they were entertaining enough in their own way, they lacked the freshness and brutality of the first film.

So who is the "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"? Her name is Lisbeth Salander and she is played by a very skinny/athletic looking actress called Noomi Rapace. Never heard of her? No, nor me either. Her character is a hacker who has recently been released from a mental asylum for reasons which will become more obvious and important as the story progresses and she has a massive dragon tattoo on her back for no reason which is ever explained. It's interesting to note that the dragon tattoo is only a little one on her shoulder on the book covers but a massive big beast all over her back for the film even though it has no significance whatsoever to the story. I have a feeling that it was going to be explained sooner or later but the author died before completing the ten volumes he was planning to write so the trilogy leaves a lot of things unanswered.

Anyway, the film begins with a middle-aged reporter named Blomkvist getting convicted of libel and facing a jail sentence for a piece he wrote about a crooked businessman. None of that is overly important as it just provides a convenient way for him to leave the Millennium magazine which he writes for to do some freelance private detective work for an old rich guy whose daughter went missing forty years ago. This is the main story but because of how badass Lisbeth Salander is introduced it becomes far less interesting than her life. It's like having two main stories running at the same time which throw up hints and clues to the other story. Yes, it's hard to explain but pretty easy to follow even though the missing girl story becomes little more than a cipher to get Blomkvist and Lisbeth bonded together.

All three films have the same structure so I would hazard a guess, having never read the books, that the main story is only ever used to focus on the two leads. The second film brings up "human trafficking" and then doesn't really go anywhere with it once Lisbeth's story comes to the fore again. I don't see this as a flaw though. It's just a different way of doing things and can really only work when you have interesting characters like her in the first place.

The acting in all three films, though particularly "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", is really good and has to be since everything in them dispels the myths that Sweden is full of tall, beautiful blondes. The actors are ordinary looking to say the least and wouldn't be out of place in a British soap opera such as "Eastenders". It's all about pimples, skin pores, acne scars and wrinkles rather than the plastic beauty of Hollywood. These people have lived-in faces and it makes the whole thing a lot more realistic even if some of the coincidences in the plot strain credibility to the maximum along the way.

Of course the most memorable moments from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" either involve sex scenes, brutal violence, or a mixture of the two. If you've seen "Eastern Promises" then think along those lines. When something happens, it's so not what you are expecting considering the almost "CSI" nature of the rest of it. One thing is for certain, you won't see this uncut on American television any time soon. To say any more would give too much away but suffice it to say that what happens in the first film continues into the second and third parts as well.

The missing girl story of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" actually becomes a quite convoluted tale about a serial killer with a bit of a twist at the end. I've been trying to think if I'd ever seen anything like it before and I have to admit that it seems to be original. I'm sure it has been done before somewhere especially as all these films have an element of Greek mythology about them which is even mentioned, but I can't remember where. Again, to start trying to make parallels to similar plots in other films would ruin it for you so I won't.

Things you will notice because they are glaringly obvious is the amount of product placement for lots of Apple, Sony and Nokia electronic equipment along the way. Maybe I'm nit-picking a bit but would a hacker really use an Apple computer rather than a PC? I've always thought of them as being computers for people who can't really use a computer, but I may be wrong. Since I'm one of those people who uses Ubuntu for everything, I'm in no position to criticize their choice of operating systems anyway even if they do seem to be easily hackable.

But I digressed. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is an amazing, classy, iconic and quite powerful film in places let down by a made for TV feel and a few plotholes that were better left unfilled by its definitely made for TV sequels. You don't have to watch the sequels, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest", if you don't want to because "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" works as a complete standalone movie in itself. I watched all three and was a little bit disappointed, but I got addicted and had to see how the story turned out. After watching the "Bourne" and "Matrix" trilogies, I should have known better really.

I'm going to give "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" an 8 out of 10. I haven't given a numerical score to a film for ages so think of it as a novelty. The only reason it loses marks is because it didn't really go far enough with the serial killing angle and went too far in other ways without a satisfying conclusion. I rate both the sequels as 6 out of 10 because they felt like the first and second parts of a miniseries rather than separate films and were certainly long enough to be so.

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