The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Cross your fingers for honorable mention

Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel is a film that makes me regret that the masterworks of our friends overseas will always fall into the category of “foreign films” when I talk about them.  “Richard, what is that movie you’re watching?”  “Oh; it’s a foreign film.  It’s Swedish.”  Granted, David Fincher is doing a surely groan-worthy American adaptation of the Millennium Trilogy, but Oplev’s film will overshadow not only any adaptation of this novel, but any crime thriller released in the near future.

I have a difficult time swallowing the phrase “foreign film” when it comes to gems like this one.  Because it’s territory that makes me feel as un-foreign as un-foreign can be: this is the type of narrative I’m at home in.

Rapace, who plays co-protagonist Lisbeth Salander, is the driving force behind the film. A bisexual pseudo-punk (“goth” if you must) hacker who lives alone, Lisbeth has a troubled past about which we are allowed to learn very little. She becomes obsessed with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and a murder case he is following, going so far as to email him further clues about the case’s solution. Do not misunderstand: Lisbeth is not a girl who needs a man; this is obsession on a deeper level. She is a near-recluse, keeps to herself, has a photographic memory, and shows telltale signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. She is sexually aggressive but completely passionless, approaching physical encounters with nearly frustrating cavalierness, and never giving a smile or a laugh in the entire span of two-and-a-half hours. Her chain-smoking would make Elliott Gould proud. Rapace plays the role with heartbreaking honesty; this is hands-down one of the bravest performances in recent memory.

The movement of the film relies on your standard thriller fare.  We start with an old man who has a problem (Sven-Bertil Taube), a few red herrings and a missing woman, along with a dashing (but not too dashing in this case) protagonist steadfastly dedicated to tracking down the suspect.  Rapace’s character offsets this classic balance, and the results are refreshing.

The Swedish language is beautiful to listen to, even when the killer is explaining his shenanigans during the climax of the film.  The plot takes plenty of turns without ever relying on cheap twists or deus ex machina, and the surprises during the last forty minutes warrant a re-watch.  Oplev gives us true drama where an American film might replace dialogue with CG and action.

I worry about this American remake.  I can’t imagine Daniel Craig as A) a Swede, and B) playing Mikael.  Furthermore, after all the talk of who would play Lisbeth in the American version, Fincher settled on Rooney Mara, a 25-year-old who has done next to no dramatic acting, the majority of her appearances being in teen schlock and corny horror knockoffs.  This is a story meant to be told in its native language with no imitations.  Don’t misunderstand: I am glad an American director wants to pay homage to Larsson despite a film trilogy based on the source material having already been developed and released, but here are a few points you can count on for the remake: there will be more “action” scenes (maybe they’ll even throw in a shootout); the rape scenes will be severely toned down if not cut out altogether and only implied offscreen; there will be far less smoking (if any); there will be thrice the product placement; and Daniel Craig will beat someone up (TBA whether he’s shirtless or not) and say macho stuff that isn’t in the novel.

Trepidations about this and that aside, please see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Tell your film-aficionado-friends about it and have a movie night, then go see the sequels (in theaters now and October).  You will be dazzled by the direction, moved by Rapace’s performance, and you’ll have a frame of reference for when the remake nightmares begin.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009); based on the novel by Stieg Larsson; screenplay by Nikolaj Arcel; directed by Niels Arden Oplev; starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.

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