March 20, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (03/20/2010)

Lettergrade: A-

My wife really wanted to see this Swedish mystery thriller, based on an international best-selling book series by Stieg Larsson, but I must admit I wasn't too keen on going myself. I was surprised, however, that it was as good a detective picture as I've seen in recent years, and that I quite enjoyed it. I'm not talkin' Silence Of The Lambs good, but it is intriguing and surprising with fascinating lead characters and some exciting action scenes. Viewers should be warned that it is in Swedish with subtitles, but if you're willing to take the trip, it's well worth it.

The picture's title, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is a little a misleading. In some markets, the English title is Millennium: Part 1 - Men Who Hate Women , both of which fail to clue you in to what you're in for (although there is a girl with a dragon tattoo, and several of the men in the movie do indeed seem to have a major dislike for broads and dames). Much of the film is really a straight crime procedural in the tradition of the old Scotland Yard locked room mysteries.

Michael Nyqvist plays an investigative reporter who looks a hell of a lot like Star Trek: The Next Generation's Brent Spiner, if he were fatter and had had severe acne problems when he was a kid. As the film opens, he's just been handed a brief prison sentence for writing an incriminating story about a powerful businessman, and then not being able to substantiate his claims when he was ordered to do so. Luckily, the way it seems to work in Sweden is that you're sentenced to a prison term, and then allowed to do whatever you want for 6 to 8 months while you're waiting for that sentence to start.

By extreme coincidence, right around the time the trial wraps up, an old wealthy patriarch of some rich Swedish business family decides that it's time to hire someone new to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his niece 40 years ago, saving Nyqvist from having to file for unemployment when his newspaper fires his convicted ass. He gets some help from the "girl" alluded to in the title, a punk bisexual juvenile delinquent who was secretly hacking into Nyqvist's laptop every now and again anyway. Eventually, the two meet and form a mismatched Oscar and Felix partnership, only the creepy, romance-free sex happens onscreen in this one.

That aside (and who hasn't been there?), the picture covers familiar territory as far as the crime plot goes, but it is the nuance of the lead characters that is interesting enough to give it all a fresh, new spin. I was surprised by how well and effectively the film was paced... afterward, I was stunned to check my watch and realize that the picture runs close to 2 hours and 40 minutes.

People have been upset about the violence in the movie, but I don't believe it is that graphic as much as what happens is disturbing. An American remake is being planned at the moment, to be directed by Benjamin Button's David Fincher. He's generally no slouch either, but checking out the Swedish version before that one surfaces in a couple years is worth the effort all the same.

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