Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review Backlog 1: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Since I've been searching for something to do during the summer while I look for work, I figured I'd try to write some reviews. I am looking for feedback (constructive criticism only please). So let me proudly present the first ever Review of Gondor (I wonder if anyone is gonna get it): The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

To the formalities. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a Swedish film based on some book I've never read. The plot is chiefly concerned with a journalist named Mikael (Michael Nyqvist), who has recently been convicted of libel against a corporation during an investigation. In the 6 months before he goes to prison, he is hired by a billionaire (Sven-Burtil Taub) to find out what happened to his niece when she disappeared 37 years ago. He begins to investigate and a misunderstood and abused goth girl, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) who had been hired by the corporation he'd been investigating to hack into his computer and spy on him notices something he missed and brings it to his attention via anonymous e-mail. He tracks her down and they begin investigating together.

The plot is interesting and varied enough to keep you enthralled throughout it's nearly 3 hours. The investigation is the highlight of the film, reminiscent of some good non-supernatural early episodes of The X-files. Think, Red Museum crossed with Our Town or perhaps Irresistible (to those of you know what I'm talking about, you're awesome). Nicely enough, the mystery and clues revolve around the main two characters noticing things in existing and established evidence that no one else did, rather than randomly stumbling on new clues.

The acting and writing is good across the board. Nyqvist gives a strong showing as Mikael throughout, and it's a shame that most of his acting is going to get overshadowed by the much stronger acting from Rapace as the much more interesting Lisbeth. Despite the fact that she is clearly in the right throughout the story, the film never lets us forget that she's still not a good or nice person. I won't go into detail, but while she was completely vindicated in her actions, some of what she gets up to is just vicious. Most of the character interaction is believable and the mystery deftly avoids "Scooby-Doo syndrome" (IE, the villain turning out to be an innocuous secondary character) by making ALL the suspects secondary characters.

That second part is the closest thing that the film has to a major problem. Apart from the main 2 characters, only the Billionaire who hired Mikael gets any real characterization. I suppose the villain gets some characterization during their inevitable "What I did and why I did it," scene, but apart from that most of the characters are used to either characterize Mikael and Lisbeth or simply assist in the moving the mystery plot forward. It would be more of a problem if Mikael and Lisbeth weren't such well written and interesting characters or if their interactions were less believable, but as it is, it's simply noticeable.

The cinematography is fine throughout, though occasionally what appear to be some director's vision decisions fall kinda flat, most notably during some flashbacks. Their not bad directorial choices, just odd. Normally I'd devote some time to the special effects, but this is a character driven realistic mystery, so there aren't any real effects to speak of.

I'd like to hang a quick content warning over this movie before wrapping everything up. While it's generally a good idea to assume that there is a content warning over most foreign films, due to most of Europe having a more relaxed attitude toward certain content than America (Y Tu Mama Tambien anyone?) but in this case I cannot stress this enough: Some of this movie is severely messed up. And not in a cinematic Saw-franchise kinda way. I mean in the brutal, realistic and intentionally shocking manner of A History of Violence or A Clockwork Orange. Brutal murder, torture and rape are all included, along with some thankfully consensual sex, and while a good portion of the more horrible things take place offscreen, the stuff we do see is often physically hard to watch. So fair warning, not for kids and not for the faint of heart. On to the conclusion.

While this is purely a subjective opinion, I currently hold The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as the best film of the year, so far (Shutter Island taking a far and away second) though at five months, nearly six, that's not precisely saying much. It's not quite a masterpiece and it's not going to do anything to change the film landscape or anyone's life. In terms of foreign films, it's not quite Seven Samurai, or Z or Pan's Labyrinth. It's something akin to Let the Right One In (if you haven't seen that, go fix that. NOW!). Nothing earth shaking or game changing or...damn, ran out of -ings. But it's a good story, told well, with some interesting characters and some great twists. It's certainly the best mystery film in a very long while, so if you think you can stomach the content, I suggest you seek it out. That's it for me.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born Cinephile, and he would have made this a video review if he wasn't afraid of mangling those Swedish names. Nyqvist for example. Nik-vist? Nik-wist? Nesquick? How do I pronounce that?

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