The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)

Posted on Monday, April 5th, 2010 at 12:35 am

I call the ridiculously compelling and addictive trilogy of Swedish mystery novels this movie is based on “Swedish crack”, so it goes without saying that I’m going to be very hard on this adaptation. I try hard, but ultimately I can’t usually get the book out of my head while I’m watching a movie. How much I like a movie adaptation is directly proportional to how faithfully it serves the spirit of the source material, and although I may support changes to the narrative or characters, I do notice every. single. departure from the text and that can mess with my suspension of disbelief. Even more so than usual, I am totally unable to see how this movie would hit a viewer unfamiliar with the book. I am blinded by my particular devotion to the novel, so consider this a review for those who are already hooked on the Swedish crack, and skip it if you are not.

This movie is, by and large, almost slavishly faithful to the book. The opening scene of the movie is a meticulous reproduction of the opening scene of the book, for instance. Much of the dense background of the story is elucidated in a well-done montage that covers a lot of ground very quickly. The cinematography is quite excellent, as well, although I had hoped to see more of Stockholm. My only criticisms come down to the individual performances, and certain aspects of the editing, and how I don’t feel they are true to the spirit of the source.

Noomi Rapace is a thing to behold in this role, and it was a hard, hard role to fill. She could not possibly look the part more, and is incredibly authentic in it. That said, she has missed (or was forced to miss) what I feel is a central element of the character. Lisbeth Salander is a vividly compelling character, but only if you know her. To strangers or the untrustworthy, she comes off as at the very least stupid and weird, more likely actually developmentally challenged in some way. At the heart of why she is often victimized is that at first glance (or even second and third), she seems like an easy target: a strange little retard who couldn’t possibly fight back but doesn’t inspire sympathy in others.  Of course, this belies an inner steely bad-ass genius, but the whole point is that almost no one knows that, and that’s the way she likes it. Noomi Rapace has a full handle on the bad-ass, but plays Salander like that at all times, so that it doesn’t much make sense when she’s continually underestimated and attacked.

As an extension of that, I found that many scenes were reworked in a way that I felt minimized Salander’s capability and calm, and depicted her as much more the victim than she was written. This is a woman who always gives more than she gets in a fight, but this director shows her getting mugged by teenagers on the subway (in the book, it’s one person, and she kicks him in the motherfucking HEAD). I’m guessing the director wants us to feel more immediate sympathy for a character that, as written, definitely does not want our sympathy. The real sympathy she engages is more because, as the audience, we want to be in her inner circle because she’s infinitely more awesome than we could ever be, and maybe if we feel protective or fond of this fictional character, we somehow can claim a piece of that badassery.

The dude who plays Michael Blomkvist, our protagonist, is so forgettable that I can’t even be bothered to look up his name. This character is supposed to be rakish and intelligent, rumpled yet still attractive and charming enough to literally nail every single female character in the book and still have you enjoying his company and never thinking less of him. This actor, to quote a better writer than I, has a face like  a catcher’s mitt,  and absolutely no pizazz. I’m not completely certain he even has a penis. The director eliminates most of Blomkvist’s conquests, although a moment’s reflection suggests that Movie Blomkvist can pretty much only land autistic rape victims. Did Stellan Skarsgård want too much money?

Complaints aside, this adaptation is very faithful, and ultimately the story itself is so taut and compelling that even its missteps are lost in the flow. Much has been made of the fairly graphic rape scenes in the movie, but really, those scenes are fairly tame compared to the book. The whole picture was somewhat awkward and I might go so far as to accuse the director of ham-fistedness, which makes me apprehensive of the coming American remake by the same man, but all in all I am forced to admit it’s pretty goddamn good.

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One Response to “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)”

  1. Archphoenix says:

    Aaaah I really want to see this. I’m afraid of the US version in the works.

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