Sunday, December 11
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009)
Looking like the miniseries it actually is, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo frames its chilled cold case mystery in flat, serviceable terms. Much as thrillers hinge on a sharp screenplay, they ultimately require great direction, great coordination of cinematography and editing, to stand out. Oplev's film feels like Masterpiece Theatre, not a sinister, gripping, immediate experience. At 150 minutes, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is long but still within the realm of potential suspense. But Oplev's pedestrian assembly cannot even faithfully recreate the fits of tension within Larsson's own book, much less add any of his own with the aided power of cinema.
The director does find a saving grace however, in the form of Noomi Rapace. Her Lisbeth Salander doesn't look as unorthodox as Larsson sketches the character, her stylish hair and piercings giving her a more attractive look. But Rapace plays the character with such masculine aggression and emotional coolness that her goth pin-up looks take on the intended harsh edge of Salander's sociopathy. Back her into a corner, and Lisbeth will fight back, sheer strength of will and righteous misandry overcoming even the strongest, most violent male. But there's less of Lisbeth's other side to Rapace's performance. Salander can be, well, not fragile, exactly, but displaced, someone who is fiercely independent and self-sufficient yet, in many ways, unable to function. Rapace gets the toughness of the character but not these deeper facets.
But Oplev insists keeping focus upon the technical protagonist, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who is even more unengaging here than in the novel. There, at least, we had a grasp of his credentials and talents, even if they were mainly laid out in exposition, and the character served to air Larsson's grievances as a daring journalist in an increasingly mollified and blindly obedient field. Here, Blomkvist displays just enough competence to find his way to Lisbeth when she deliberately leaves a hacked trail back to her so simple my mother could track her down. Lisbeth is the clear star of the series, with her vigilante retribution and genius intellect casting her as a viscerally effective superheroine, and Blomkvist proves so useless without her that his scenes feel like mere padding.
The narrative, of an old capitalist titan hiring Blomkvist to uncover the truth of his beloved niece's 40-year-old disappearance, allowed Larsson to delve into the themes he held dear as a journalist: the aforementioned sorry state of journalism, Sweden's extreme right sect, and an abhorrence for violence against women ingrained in the writer after helplessly witnessing a gang rape as a teenager. Oplev covers this terrain but gives no dramatic oomph to any subject, never selling the disgust that rolls off the page when Larsson broaches each topic. And it seems tragically obvious in retrospect that the one artfully arranged moment of the entire film involves Lisbeth's treatment at the hands of her legal guardian, the use of obscuring close-ups and tinkered-with sound mixing for the one moment that would have benefitted from Oplev's banal, matter-of-fact staging.
Likewise, the director's other flashy touches, reserved chiefly for flashbacks of both Lisbeth's and Blomkvsit's childhoods, only reveal his fundamental limitations as a shooter. Scenes simply start and stop without any sense of construction, especially before the two leads team up and editor Anne Østerud simply cuts haphazardly between their storylines. It's hard to believe that a longer version of this film—by a full half-hour—exists, as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo could use with more than that amount of trimming. I'm slightly worried to see that David Fincher's version sports the same running length, but frankly, the rapidly edited trailers for the upcoming remake sport more atmospheric, evocative tones than the whole of this interminable slog.