Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män Som Hatar Kvinnor/Men Who Hate Women)

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is for long periods of time a very boring, blasé piece of Hollywood-style cinema made in Sweden. The writing is bad, there are copious clichés, and there's a mystery that's good but not good enough to sit through a 2 and a half hour film about it. Especially for what happens in the periods of time that are not boring. This portion of the film is gruesome and, as others have said, perhaps "gratuitous." Could there be more artful ways of showing what happens in this film? Yes. But that's because I'm pretty sure director Niels Arden Oplev and screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg think that it would be so intense to have a rape scene in (as Gabe Toro said) a "subplot unrelated to the rest of the film," because they know the rest of the film might not be so interesting. Editing is not used. No. We need to capture this in all of its squalor, don't we? We've got footage that's going to repulse audiences, and we're going to use it. I know films can be "unrelenting" but I feel this is just some sort of shocker for no reason.

I've tried to read the book by Stieg Larsson, and I stopped and started up until about p.85. No doubt I won't finish it now. If the film is any indication, those planning to read the books then see the Swedish films are looking forward to a hell of a lot of violence in a sea of boringness. The American remakes are supposed to be "toned down"; God let 'em, if they're going to be "made with grace and style," as Ebert would say. If they're going to be mirrors of the sloppily adapted, badly written and scored original, let's just say there's one ticket lost.

The plot, for those of whom didn't read the book (which the film whips through so fast it feels like you did futile reading): Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) keeps getting framed flowers in the mail, one per birthday, for every year since his brother's daughter Harriet, who was the "apple of his eye," was murdered. He assumes it's the killer. Okay. So then, for some reason, he wants to solve this case again. So he brings on Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who's a journalist who got set up and then cut down "for libel." There's a special reason (at least I think): Blomkvist's nanny was Harriet. But wait. He's waited this long to contact this guy if he's "the one"? And he's done it in the six months "before he serves his sentence"? Why?

Whatever. So Blomkvist comes and starts investigating and what do you know, he starts uncovering dirt that had never been found. So it takes an un-jaded reporter to get moderately far? I guess. Moderately far is the objective phrase there, though. He does blow up some pictures and he does find a bible with weird codes it (which are idiotically mistaken for phone numbers; why would someone put freaking phone numbers in a bible?), but he can't go that extra inch, as there's a photo of a guy he can't see and that would be operative to solving this whole deal, since in this picture she's looking worriedly at someone and of course, that someone has to be the killer. So he acquires a partner, after she sends him what the codes mean and does it so he can easily trace her. This is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has been hacking Blomkvist's computer for a long time. As the characters put it, she knows everything about him, but he knows nothing about her. She writes a profile on him to give to the head of her security company, so she needs to constantly watch him and steal his information (this section is very detailed in the book and is so dashed off in the film that it will leave book readers knowledgeable but angry and film viewers blissfully ignorant; maybe we could have gotten rid of that whole "I am a sadist pig and a rapist" section that was bemoaned by Toro and heard more about this; it establishes the character of Salander much better) but she gets interested after she gets done with finding out what he's currently doing and she solves the codes and brings herself into the whole ordeal.So they spend the latter half of the film finding out things in cliché ways. For example, we're subjected to ridiculously obvious jump scares when Blomkvist goes to investigate. Also we get many scenes of people flipping frantically through library books. Plus, shots lingering forever on "photos of mutilated women," done in religious killings ripped from the Bible. Um... isn't this like a total ripoff of "Se7en" by David Fincher? (No wonder they're getting him to direct the Americanization of the material. He'll just be directing his past again.)

There were times I wished I walked out of the film. I wish I had after I saw the stupid tack-on ending and how the film delves into flashbacks of Lisbeth's childhood to try to make you watch the other films. I'm not interested enough in any way. Rapace I would agree is good. She has a fight scene with a beer bottle that is easily the film's most exciting and interesting, and it doesn't involve rape (although it does involve an attack in a subway). If she wasn't in the film, it would be bad across the board. Without her, there would be absolutely no reason to see this film. And I'll admit, isolated, the mystery of Harriet is interesting. Except for the fact that it was, as people have said, just another excuse to show "sexism" and "violence toward women" in Sweden. Ebert was right: "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is a good title. Made me read the book and want to see the film. But it's a little bit of false advertising. "Men Who Hate Women" is much more appropriate. C-

Warning: this film would be a hard R in the United States for "Sexuality including sexual assaults, violence, disturbing images, and language." Plus it committed the crime of making me feel, like Ebert feels sometimes, "dirty."

Also, if you want a film that's a mystery that's not done poorly and doesn't involve extreme violence, see "The Ghost Writer." The film's second half is amazing. It was a great film experience.

Update: the film did actually pick up an R rating after I saw it for "disturbing violent content including rape, grisly images, sexual material, nudity, and language." So I sort of called it. Not the sort of thing I would walk into if I had seen the rating.


aspergiansarah said...

Hm, I kind of wanted to watch this one, after reading Roger Ebert's review. Maybe it'll come on instant play Netflix, being that it's foreign, so no money will be spent.

I've a lot of movies on your can't wait to see list that have been on mine too, beforehand. Unfortunately, I can't go to film festivals like you can, but I might next September. Fingers crossed (seeing them off DVD might make my writings seem more official.)

Stephanie said...

I love this line: "A hell of a lot of violence in a sea of boringness." :-) This is a movie I'll probably miss. I may give the novel a go.

By the way, Nick, do you actually go to film festivals? Very cool! Which ones?

Nick Duval said...

@Stephanie I'd like to go to more, but I've only been to the New York Film Festival of last year, where I saw two films. I've tried to go to Film Comment Selects, New Directors/New Films, and Tribeca, but I failed with all three. Hopefully I can go again to the NYFF and maybe the Toronto Film Festival. I entered a contest to go to Cannes (to which I was denied the necessary press credentials), but that's very unlikely. I would love to go, though.

The book for the film is a much, much deeper experience, or at least to the point I got to. They sort of sped through the first 100 pages in less than ten minutes. It was a little disheartening... I just wonder if the book gets to be as twisted as the movie. I was reading it but I stopped.

@aspergiansarah Next september? Are you thinking Toronto? That's cool. If you haven't been to any, that's probably a good one to start at.

I love Ebert's reviews, but he graded this film too high.

--- Nick

Literary Dreamer said...

I agree about the mystery being "good but not good enough to sit through a 2 and a half hour film about it." I also found the tying up of loose ends and the "telling the wrong person information" scene a bit of a disappointment. But, I'm siding more with Ebert on this one, in that he is right about the characters. The characters in this movie, especially Lisbeth, are fascinating and well-drawn, so much so that I want to know what happens to them after the movie ended. True, this is far from The Secret in Their Eyes (which I'm liking more and more since that one time I saw it--it bears a second viewing), but it's also far from the bad film you make it out to be--though again, you make very valid points concerning its flaws.

Nick Duval said...

@literarydreamer Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating character, you're right. But I think that in what I read of the book, Salander was brought out better. But no matter how much I hated this film, "The Girl Who Played With Fire" still intrigues me. And maybe the fact that the direction changed hands for the final two films will make a difference.

But I found that there was no real style in this film. It felt a little listless. With "Secret In Their Eyes," you had masterful direction carving the way. When it comes down to what's what, I still think this film fails the Ebert's First Law of "It's not what a film is about, it's how it's about it."

Nonetheless, perhaps I was a little harsh. I wrote this review with a kind of aggression against the film. But I guess I can be enticed to the next films...

--- Nick