Synopsis: Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found and her beloved uncle is convinced she was murdered and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed and troubled yet resourceful computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to investigate.
When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from almost forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vanger’s are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.
Okay, so ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ has made quite an imprint on North American pop culture: not only are the books selling like mad, but the Swedish adaptations of the films are drawing crowds and a high-budget American version is in the works. Everyone seems to agree that this is a great series.
But I’m not convinced.
I must admit that I haven’t read the books. I should also note that I’m of the firm belief that the books are usually better – they usually have more room for detail, exposition, and character development and yet they leave more to the reader’s imagination and interpretation.
That being said, my only interest in the series is because I’ve heard so much about it, and because the films came highly recommended. I figured that, by watching these films, I could get a quick glimpse at this pop culture phenomenon without investing too much time. And, who knows, maybe I’d be a convert….
In fact, I felt that the film, while a good thriller, was really nothing exceptional. I’ve seen plenty of good thrillers in my time, and even quite a few superior ones (Memento, Spoorloos, Silence of the Lambs, Frenzy, Misery, Cape Fear, …etc)., and it seems to me that ‘The Girl with the Dragon tattoo’ was strictly a solid entry in a genre overburdened with low-brow fare.
The acting was very good, but not exceptional, the directing was unobtrusive (either in a good or bad sense), the mystery was intriguing without being challenging, and the pacing was consistent. All in all, it’s a movie that should have left me saying “cool!”, having taken a good ride.
But there were some issues I couldn’t ignore.
For one, there’s the violence. Some people will say that, when dealing with serial killings, the violence should be taken for granted. Well, I disagree. While I have the highest tolerance to on-screen violence and/or gore, I’m in the camp of “less is (usually) more”. I think that the mind can fill the gaps quite well and we don’t need to be shown every single act of violence, every hit, every tear, every drop of blood, …etc. I think that the horror of violence is frequently in the build-up, in the tension leading to it – not in spotlighting every imaginable atrocity for gore-hounds to savour.
Case-in-point: there is a rape scene in this film (you have been warned!). While it was significant, character-wise, it was unnecessary to show a large part of the scene. The director could have cut it short as we find out that the character is trapped – and then jumped to the aftermath, which clearly identified what had happened. We didn’t need to see it happen.
Unlike the stomach-churning film ‘Irréversible’, whose core is a lengthy scene that is as uncomfortable as it is brutal, and which is essential to the structure and tone of the story (for good or bad!), this particular case was gratuitous and could easily be trimmed. In that scene, and in a few others like it, the film fell trap to the Hollywood predilection for going over the top in order to shock the viewer – of forcing a reactiion out of you instead of making you feel.
Frankly, it could -and should- have been avoided.
Similarly, the whole ending was far too ‘Hollywood’ for my tastes: from the car chase onward (which was stupid because a character was left to escape when he could have been stopped fairly effortlessly) everything was put together for audience appeal. The redundant car chase was “thrilling”, the wrap-up was “feel-good” and made you feel fuzzy-wuzzy, and the main characters ended up in a better place than where they started. As if. How convenient.
Seriously, I spit on such conventions: give me a heartfelt sense of reality anytime over the commercially-driven satiation of conventional desires. To me, it’s akin to planning an encore at a concert and keeping all the best songs for that moment (which is basically a form of blackmail, really!) instead of giving your all and only doing an encore when the crowd can’t get enough. It’s all pre-planned, processed and made for easy consumption – like junk-food for the masses: instantly filling, but hardly nourishing.
Anyway, after being told that the second film isn’t nearly as good, but that it picks up somewhat by the third instalment, I’m feeling a little let-down and now face the rest of the series with some trepidation. Will I enjoy the rest at all? Will I end up loathing the series? Or will I get something different from these films and maybe enjoy the other two more than the average viewer?
All I know is that ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ has hardly left a lasting impression on me; this tattoo will fade.