SXSW 2010 Review: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writers: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Hesiterberg, Stieg Larsson (novel)
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nygvist
Studio: Music Box Films
Sometimes, minor imperfections on an object only make it more beautiful. For example, the Venus de Milo's lack of arms has created this elegant figure of femininity, and it's almost better she's without those appendages. But not everything has that advantage. Sometimes, there are things whose imperfections greatly outshine what is enchanting about it, and unfortunately, that is the case for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Based on the novel of the same name by Stieg Larsson, the GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a beautifully and intriguingly crafted tale that is ultimately overshadowed by its main flaw---a long, drawn out conclusion.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO centers on two unlikely characters who team up to solve the mystery of a woman who vanished (and was possibly murdered) 30 years ago. Mikel (Michael Nygvist) is a journalist who was recently sentenced for libel against a popular and influential industrialist. After he is forced to resign from his job at the magazine Millenium, Mikel decides he will just take it easy with family until his jail sentence begins. That is, until he is sought out by Henrik Vanger, the CEO of a major corporation who is searching for his missing niece, Harriet. He enlists Mikel's precise researching skills to find out what just what happened to her. While Mikel is trying to solve this 30 year old mystery, our story is paralleled with Lisbeth Salander, a young, badass hacker who has been keeping an eye on Mikel during his case; which leads her to believe that he was set up. The two are then brought together by a stroke of fate, and the search is on to find out what happened to Harriet Vanger.
During the first hour of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, the two narratives of Mikel and Lisbeth are juxtaposed. As we begin with Mikel on his investigation for Harriet, we witness Lisbeth's vastly different everyday life. These two strikingly different (yet ultimately uniting) stories are what made me love the film. While Mikel gets deeply involved into Harriet's case, Lisbeth is confronted with brutal and unnerving attacks; and there are moments in her story that are very unsettling and hard to watch. Yet, the film doesn't objectify the actions that occur. Though they are tough to take, Oplev presents them in a way that almost says, "This is a part of being human, these things happen" and the sad realization of the film's/novel's true title Men Who Hate Women comes into play--a title that I personally think suits the film and its narrative far better than THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO--but I digress. Oplev doesn't manipulate these acts to shock the audience or push their boundaries, they are presented as a sad fact of our society, and gives Lisbeth yet another obstacle she must overcome. And as these scenes are played out in front of our eyes, we are given shots of Mikel on the beautiful Swedish countryside trying to solve the mystery of a woman who may have vanished at the hand of men-- another parallel to what human ugliness can do.
While we're on the subject, the character of Lisbeth is one that I think cinema needs more often. She doesn't take shit from anybody and will do whatever she can to survive; yet the vicious things that have happened to her give her a certain fragility. As much as I love Angelina Jolie and her roles in action films, it's nice to see a female lead who isn't beautiful by the conventional standards and does everything a man can. And Lisbeth is certainly not traditional: she is pierced, short haired and is a computer badass with a huge chip on her shoulder; and Noomi Rapace's performance in the film is shockingly enveloping, she truly becomes Lisbeth and isn't scared to show her bad side. Something that many female leads in mysteries/thrillers don't necessarily have.
Furthermore, Oplev really triumphs as director in this film. Whether it's the cinematography or down to the eye of detail on the characters' clothing, Oplev knows how to execute a film. This is further proved by the film's story, which is intriguing and perfectly paced. Oplev has a keen eye on when to divulge information and when to keep the audience guessing. He's careful not to show too much, but he isn't teasing. The clues are all there, they're just cleverly hidden beneath the surface; and up until the film's shocking climax, no one is really sure what will happen to Mikel and Lisbeth, and if they will survive the outcome.
But what is keeping me from giving the film the original rating I had intended (a 4/5) is its long, long and multiple endings. I tried my hardest to give the film a break since I enjoyed the first two acts so much, but overall the film's ending just took away from everything that was so carefully given. It's as if we spent time with the director creating a dark mural that only is smashed to pieces looking for the answer. Oplev wanted to be sure that every story, every stone was left solved and uncovered, which ultimately ruins the taut and tightly woven knot of his story. Now don't get me wrong, yes it is nice to have every question answered in a film, but THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO takes that sentiment to an extreme, and it becomes cumbersome on the audience.
But, I understand that film-to-book adaptations (especially for a novel so universally critically acclaimed) have a hard time distinguishing the line from being too faithful to the book to not at all; and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a film that I think suffers because it is too faithful to the book. Oplev and his writers wanted to be sure to get everything that happens in the novel happens in the film, and although these acts may work in novel form, it doesn't necessarily translate that way on screen. Remaining so diligently close to the original source destroys the film's veracity; and perhaps the American remake will take this into consideration, but really who knows.
Despite my complaints against the film's conclusion, the story and its characters are the film's saving grace and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO should be checked out for these facts alone. Larsson created such strong characters that it still leaves me intrigued and wondering what will happen next for them in the trilogy, and that is ultimately what matters.
If you're a fan of the novels, director Niels Arden Oplev and writers Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Hesiterberg are very true to the award-winning source, and it can be rewarding to see such a loved novel excellently brought to life. But for those who haven't read the books, although the film is powerful, get ready for more endings than LORD OF THE RINGS.
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