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Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

April 19, 2010
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I enjoy travelling, but I have an intense dislike for flying.  I find the experience to be uncomfortable at best and terrifying at worst.  That – coupled with my pathological need to arrive at airports about 3 hours before my flight is scheduled to leave - generally makes air-travel a grueling, altogether unpleasant experience for all parties involved.  What does my personal anxiety about flying have to do with a movie review?  Allow me to explain:

I was in NYC recently and I decided, somewhat on a whim, that I would take in the matinee showing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – which was showing serendipitously across the street from my hotel.  This would be unremarkable except that I made this decision three hours before I was scheduled to depart the lovely city – playing fast and loose, like I do (not. EVER).  The details to facilitate my viewing came together so seamlessly, it truly seemed like kismet.  I happened to get to the theater with five minutes to spare before the film began and – assuming that it would run about two hours - I would have a reasonable amount of time to get to the airport and catch my flight, even though I was cutting it close.  Of course, I was dead wrong.  The film’s running time is closer to 2 1/2 hours and as a result, I barely made my flight and had to run in public to catch it (plus I endured a public wanding by airport security and spent some unwanted down time in a human-sized, plexi-glass box for my troubles.  Like the titular character Lisbeth Salander, I too have issues with authority).  It wasn’t pretty and there may have been tears.  BUT!  I regret nothing – here is why:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is awesome.

Based on Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel of the same name  (I recommend reading Jenna’s excellent review of the book – or better yet, the book itself) and directed by Niels Arden Oplev, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is in essence a classic, detective thriller.  The story revolves around Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a journalist facing jail time after losing a libel case against a corrupt industrialist.  Before serving his sentence, Blomkvist is hired by Henrik Vanger -  the wealthy, elderly CEO of a family business - to solve the disappearance of his niece, Harriet, whom Vanger believes was murdered some 40 years ago.  Blomkvist is assisted in his investigation by a young, rebellious, computer hacker (and full-time bad ass) Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace).  At first glance, Lisbeth and Blomkvist make an unlikely duo – he is middle-aged, possessing of a non-threatening attractiveness; she is a tattooed punk, comprised mostly of eye-liner and sinew – the discrepancies in their ages and physical appearances accurately represent how little they have in common.  They join forces at his behest, after he discovers that she has been hired by Vanger to investigate him – and that she has a particular talent for uncovering well-buried secrets.  Vanger suspects that a member of his family is responsible for the disappearance of Harriet, aged sixteen at the time, and as more family history is revealed (drunken violence and deplorable racism are not the least of which among them)  the more likely it seems that Henrik has been on to something all along.

This face? You don't want this face upset with you.

This is as good a time as any to say a word about Lisbeth Salander.  Weighing 90 pounds soaking wet and barely reaching 5′, this is a woman that you DO NOT want to fuck with.  And yet, people do – many times over.  Clever, resourceful and not one bit afraid to get her hands very, very dirty, Lisbeth Salander exacts revenge on those who have wronged her with thoughtful purpose.  Noomi Rapace plays her perfectly – as a very guarded creature with a past that would send the best of us running for the nearest mental institution and a present that is at times, even more awful – like when she suffers unspeakable sexual violence at the hands of her legal guardian.  When we are given a rare glimpse of her vulnerability, it’s a necessary hook that keeps us watching and ultimately rooting for her and it just works.  For me, the movie was exponentially more interesting and engrossing every time she appeared onscreen.   The chemistry between Blomkvist and Salander - integral in binding the film together - is palpable and completely believable.  As they work together to solve the mystery of what happened to Harriet  (linking her disappearance to her own discoveries about murdered women over the years) they share a connection and mutual admiration that I feel anchors the film as it progresses.  In spite of their differences, they accept one another for who they are – and as trite a concept as that sounds – their improbable relationship plays out in a convincing, real way.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo explores the darkest corners of humanity – specifically focusing on crimes against women - by way of a noir-ish, crime drama with unflinching realism.  There are scenes of violence in the film that are excruciating to watch, but which do add depth and motivation to the characters portrayed in it.  Alternately shot in stark hues and dark, honeyed tones – the film has a rich look to it which mirrors and enhnaces the story itself.

Definitely a movie worth almost missing your flight for.

For more discussion, Daniel Carlson wrote a superior review of the film here for Pajiba.com,  it’s definitely worth checking out.

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4 Responses to “ Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ”

  1. ATN on April 19, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I totally agree with you. This movie is awesome. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that is this riveting. Lisbeth Salander is such an incredible character. She is who she is and offers no explanations or apologies for it. Even at her lowest of moments when she’s been victimized in such a horrific way, you just knew that she was going to come screaming back to life, and with in-kind vengeance. 2 1/2 hours is a long movie, but I sure didn’t feel it was that long. Can’t wait for “The Girl who Played with Fire”, just finished the book and I’m almost in a tizzy for the film.

  2. Pancake on April 19, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment ATN! I found the movie to be so compelling – I saw it a week ago and it has stuck with me for as long. It’s tremendously difficult for me to watch human on human violence (horror and science fiction are another matter for me) but I thought that they handled the dipictions of rape well – it was horrible to watch and it should be – but I never felt like it was gratuitous or exploitative.

    I am almost finished with the book and can’t wait to dig into the series – I really thought they did such a good job streamlining and adapting the novel into the film.

  3. Ryan on April 21, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    Nice review! I love this film and it only gets better with a second viewing!

  4. Bridgid on April 27, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    The book was so good! I can be critical of films following good literature. I am glad it lives up to the challenge.

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