Saturday, March 27, 2010

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Review

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is hardly what I expected from the highest grossing Swedish film of all time. Maybe it's the graphic rape, I don't know—I was expecting something more commercial. The good news is that in such moments, "Dragon Tattoo" is disquietingly powerful. The bad news is that they lie few and far between an otherwise mediocre mystery. Swedish actress Noomi Repace plays the eponymous lead, Lisbeth Salander, and brims with a badassery on par with Franka Potente of "Run Lola Run." She's terrific, but let me say this up front—The character and her performance are better than the film (or at least its second half) deserves.

The first seventy-five minutes impressively juggle gritty, squeamish scenes of Lisbeth's abuse at the hands of her slimy probate and her subsequent revenge, with a straightforward, slow-paced thriller involving Mikeal Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a journalist convicted of libel, being privately hired to shed light on a long cold family kidnapping case. The two threads are remarkably dissimilar in theme and style, and it's a peanut butter and jelly situation for the film; they complement each other ideally, preventing the other from becoming tiresome.

But as should be expected from a story with simultaneously unraveling plotlines, we soon reach their intersection, and although it's a matter of personal preference, for me "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" flounders once its characters coalesce. For starters, Lisbeth's infinitely more interesting arc (and consequently, its stylish flourish) is swallowed by Mikeal's when she becomes his investigatory partner midway through the film. The 'straightforward, slow-paced thriller' takes hold, with the odd addition of a buddy cop dynamic. Generations collide! Lisbeth understands computers and Mikeal has antiquated taste in music!

It's a weird turn, and one I don't think "Dragon Tattoo" really recovers from. The character of Lisbeth is far and away its highlight, and if anything, as the film progresses, her role becomes increasingly marginalized. She loses the snap and snarl that she has independently as she and Mikeal inevitably get intimate, and maybe for some, watching the two change each other as the case comes into focus will be the emotional apex, but I found it a disappointing detour. Lisbeth's act of unflinching vengeance early in the film is neither topped nor matched—She becomes more boring in Mikeal's presence.

Maybe it's that a relationship in general doesn't feel convincing for so scarred a character. Certainly this is the implication of Lisbeth's interest in sex above intimacy, but it feels like a requiste development dictated by genre expectation rather than an organic attraction between the two characters. That she uses sexuality as a vehicle for self-empowerment is an interesting angle, but then I don't buy the legitimate affection later on. Lisbeth has a photographic memory and is haunted by her past—She isn't the sort of person whom I believe has a dormant tenderness.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is long, and by the end of the engagement, I felt exactly what the dual storylines prevented me from feeling: tired. The wrinkles in the mystery aren't especially surprising, and the plot is stretched to the point that I'm almost inclined to forget what I found initially so compelling about the characters because where it takes them is so much less so. Lisbeth is fiercely independent, and watching her emasculate her pervert probate has a gratifying brutality that seeing her play second fiddle in a PI procedural couldn't hope to.

My mixed feelings about the film make it difficult to consolidate a final score, so I'll leave it here: "Dragon Tattoo" is a film I half-liked.


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