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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

January 11, 2011

7/10 Tough Cookies

As a spotlight for Noomi Rapace, it’s awesome. As an adaptation of an outrageously addicting novel, it’s almost there.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about a disgraced journalist who finds his reputation tarred and feathered after losing a high-profile legal battle that’s left his livelihood on the brink of ruin. Then clear out of the blue, he’s given the opportunity to investigate the unsolved murder of a business tycoon’s niece despite having no prior experience as a criminal investigator let alone having never watched a single episode of CSI: Stockholm. Being that he’s got some major time to kill until he has to start serving his prison sentence for losing that trial and all, he takes the job and finds an unexpected right-hand woman in the form of a hacker who dresses like Marilyn Manson on a good day and is all about making payback the biggest bitch on the block.

So it wasn’t until last Summer that I finally caved and followed in the majority of mankind’s footsteps by reading the copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I pulled out of a grab bag during Christmas ’09. Expectations were low after all my uncles put me on blast for getting stuck with what they fingered as undoubtedly the girliest book anyone could have ended up with, but then I hit page ten and I realized that I had just gotten myself invested in the literary equivalent of crack cocaine. It wasn’t enough to get me to pick up the sequel, but after coming off of a book that was a borderline chore to get through (albeit a great book) it was easy to get hooked and it was a wild read to boot.

Anyway, my point is that this movie had a lot to live up to and I think I’ve been kinda jaded by that fact as a result. For the most part, this movie does the book justice, especially if you’re going in blind. But as much as I tried not to, I couldn’t help but focus on all the elements that the adapted script skimped on even though everything for the most part was pretty spot-on. So with that being said, I’ll do my best to not make this a “book vs. movie” review, but let’s just start with the good stuff.

For a movie that clocks in at 152 minutes, this baby moves. It’s never boring, it’s over before you know what hit ya’ and it doesn’t shy away from the hairier elements that make this bad boy a pretty hard R. A definite perk for the folks out there who equate subtitles with “reading blows”, and director Niels Arden Oplev does a great job of transitioning between his two leads so that it feels more like a single plot line instead of separate stories waiting to come together. Big step up from the book in that regard and you’ll forget pretty damn quickly that the subtitles are even there.

And then there’s Noomi Rapace as our gumshoe with a jones for computers and fucking up 90% of the guys she meets since they all happen to be rapists or thugs, Lisbeth Salander. A magnetic character in the novel, Rapace brings a whole new level of Sarah Connor-style toughness to Salander that totally steals the show from the moment we meet her and almost makes you wonder why there’s another protagonist at all. In a nutshell, the whole movie is about the most evil effing woman-haters around who take pride in dominating their “inferiors” in some truly degenerate ways, so it’s double awesome to see scrawny little Salander as both the muscle and the co-brains of the operation.

She is a badass, she is an independent woman of the highest order, she would make me poop myself if we made eye contact in real life. Also dug the addition of Salander flashbacking to her days when she played with fire as a lead-in to the next movie. Well played, Mr. Oplev and your trusty team of writers whose names I can’t pronounce.

But she’s also the double-edged sword of this movie. It’s called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and while the main story doesn’t even directly involve her on the outset, it ends up being all about the girl with the dragon tattoo. And while she’s the biggest thing that makes this movie stand out and I’m sure that last sentence doesn’t make a lick of sense if you’re unfamiliar with the movie or book, our actual main character Michael Blomkvist ends up taking a backseat in every way. It wouldn’t suck so much if Blomkvist hadn’t been a really solid character in the book and if Michael Nyqvist hadn’t done a good job playing him, but the character ultimately gets boiled down as a means to an end and that’s disappointing.

His alternately platonic/romantic relationship with Salander along with the two or three other women he’s knocking boots with are either tied up neatly or ignored completely, the legal battle he loses at the beginning which in turn plays a major part in why he takes the murder case is hardly mentioned at the start and is ultimately resolved over the course of two minutes, and that’s just a couple aspects of his character that are left out in a screenwriting move that can only be described as weak. Like I said, this probably won’t matter if you haven’t read the book, but I liked Blomkvist, I thought he was just as strong a character as Salander in the novel and that a great deal of what made her so memorable went right back to their dynamic together. Now, he’s just kind of…there, and he deserves better than that.

Ugh, just a bummer, but aside from Blomkvist, the meat of the main story is still all there and the constant highlights of this hardcore whodunit should be more than enough to make any viewer forget about the small stuff. Just high-octane mystery-solvin’ with Goth chicks and sado-Nazis, and that’s always a fight worth watching.

So whether you’ve read the book or not, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is still a wild freakin’ ride any way you cut it and I really was this close to giving it an 8. God, if I hadn’t read the book I could see myself giving this as much as a 9 and only now am I starting to realizing that all these complaints of mine are probably reading off awfully nitpicky, and I hate being nitpicky. It’s about damn time I got around to seeing this and it’s nice to see that Rapace does in fact live up to all the hype and then some even if The Academy was too stupid not to nominate her for anything last year.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2011 4:00 am

    I haven’t read the books yet but did give this film an 8, so your hypothesis is correct!

    Biggest selling point for me was Nyqvist – don’t get me wrong, Rapace is good, but I’m all about Michael. He’s been overlooked on an international level for so frigging long.

    Don’t know if you plan on watching all 3 back to back but the other two films are from another director and I felt that they dragged big time and lacked any cinematic quality!

    • January 11, 2011 7:57 am

      hahaha. i knew i was onto something!

      Nyqvist was really good, had no idea he’s been around before. anything i should check out?

      and I’ll probably get around to the other two by the time Fincher’s remake comes around, other than that i’m in no big rush.

      • January 11, 2011 11:30 am

        He’s been bobbing around in Swedish cinema for some time now. A great film to check out would be ‘Together’. That was the first time he wow’d me.

        Looks like he’s also cast as the main Mission Impossible 4 baddie. YUSS!!!

      • January 11, 2011 11:41 am

        That one’s been on my queue for a while now. Will do.

        Pretty cool about MI:4, too. Although Hoffman’s tough bad guy to top.

      • January 12, 2011 5:44 am

        Sweet, Together’s beasting. Also, don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned A BITTERSWEET LIFE… but that’s a good ‘un too :-p

        And yea, will be tough as nuts trying to out-evil the PSH, but I’m sure Nyqvist can give it a good shot.

      • January 12, 2011 11:10 am

        haha. i think you’ve mentioned it once or twice. and strangely enough, my friend posted this link on Facebook today:

        Will report back asap.

  2. January 11, 2011 5:26 am

    Agree completely with your sentiments about there being a difference if you’ve read the book: I’ve read the book and came close to really not liking this version, albeit for different reasons.

    Michael Nyqvist was a big negative for me. In the books Blomkvist is a charismatic ‘always gets the girl’ kind of guy. Nyqvist, on the other hand, has about the same level of charisma as the cold cup of tea currently sitting in front of me.

    Agree with your point that many of his other relationships also get passed over and in the books I felt there was more build-up to the the Salander/Blomkvist involvement – here it just kind of happens.

    Overall I just found it lacking in the ‘thrill’ count a good ‘thriller’ should have and I’m looking forward to seeing what a more established director (Fincher) can do with the great material.

    • January 11, 2011 8:03 am

      first off, if Zodiac is any indication, Fincher is gonna absolutely kill this and the whole time I was watching it I was thinking about how much better it would be if Fincher was behind the camera. can’t wait for that.

      and whether or not Nyqvist did a good job, the big problem for me was that Blomkvist’s character got the Cliffs Notes treatment. really lame and hope that changes in the next adaptation.

      thought it was a pretty solid thriller though, plot moved along at a great pace and i really liked that scene at the beginning where Salander fights off those thugs in the train station. but like you said, looking forward to Fincher.

  3. January 11, 2011 2:09 pm

    I haven’t read the book(s), but I recently watched the first two movies of the trilogy. Loved this one, been planning on reviewing it myself at some point. I didn’t care for the second movie as much — it was good but felt like it was missing something. Still gonna check out the finale whenever it is released on DVD here.

    Good review. It’s always interesting to see what gets left out of the movies…

  4. January 13, 2011 10:36 am

    I haven’t read the books, but I completely agree about Michael Blomkvist. He felt like half a character, egregiously underdeveloped and almost ancillary to the story. Still, the storytelling and development of Lisbeth was so good that it didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment.

    Hopefully, the upcoming Fincher’s version can beef up his character.

    • January 13, 2011 12:35 pm

      Yeah, Lisbeth definitely got the royal treatment here, and it makes sense considering the title and how unique she is in comparison to everyone else, but still, I weep for Blomkvist. And Fincher’s gonna blow that shit out of the water.

  5. January 25, 2011 3:01 pm

    Awww, man! You read the first book and didn’t bother to read the follow-ups? You’re missing out! The third one is kind of ho-hum, but the second is solid…and if you read the second, you kinda have to read the third since they’re tied together. Anyway, you gotta.

    I’ll just say that you summed up my issues with the movie sweetly. You even used the word ‘dynamic’ in regards to the Blomkvist/Salander relationship, which is the biggest issue I had with this movie – there was no dynamic. The pop that was there in the book was altogether gone. And yes, Blomkvist was a pretty damn boring character (through all three movies, in fact).

    I’ll see Fincher’s version, but my hopes won’t be nearly so high (which, of course, will help in the long run).

    • January 25, 2011 3:05 pm

      Hahaha. My reading list has moved onto greener pastures, my man. So alas, I’ll be sticking with the movies. And I’m glad you thought the same thing about Blomkvist, ’cause he was damn good in the book. Dude got the shaft here.

      Hopefully Fincher picked up on this as well, but I’ll be seeing that movie regardless.

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