Monday, 29 March 2010

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' review: On men who hate women...

The original Swedish title for this film (and for Stieg Larsson’s original novel) is perhaps more appropriate than that given to English language version. ‘Men Who Hate Women’ is almost an understatement here as we are shown scene after scene of violence (both sexual and non-sexual) towards women and perpetrated by a number of men (young and old).The films titular girl, Lisbeth (played by Noomi Rapace), has her own personal reasons to be hostile towards men, whilst the plot itself centres on the search for a man suspected of brutally murdering a number of young women. But apart from the frequent graphic scenes of rape, nudity and realistic violence the film bears a striking resemblance to a well-made TV detective serial rather than to a feature film. This isn’t because the film looks cheap, as it looks fairly expensive from a technical point of view, but it just feels as though it has a televisual style to it rather than a cinematic one, and so I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that the production team behind it (Yellow Bird) is behind TV’s ‘Wallander’: a detective show staring Kenneth Branagh.

The plot is contrived and conventional by TV whodunit standards: Mikael, disgraced investigative Journalist (played by the sincere and compelling Michael Nyqvist) teams up with Lisbeth (a “punk” computer hacker with a criminal past) to form a mismatched detective duo. They are called upon by an ailing old man to solve the disappearance and suspected murder of his great-Niece, which took place back in the 1960s. Along the way they encounter a number of suspicious, humourless relatives who gather around in plush drawing rooms and say things like “This is preposterous! You have no business being here!” and generally refuse to co-operate with the investigation. I don’t know if/how any of the story plugs into the next two films of the trilogy (which has already been shot and is awaiting release), but the film, as it stands, operates as if it were a standalone story in an episodic television series. Next week: an unrelated murder in another small parochial town of upper-class twits, and so on.

This isn’t to say that ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ is bad, however. In fact, it is quite good television. Danish TV director Niels Arden Oplev has done a decent job with the material, even if he is over-reliant on montage during the scenes where evidence is being examined. In fact, for a 2 ½ hour film it is fairly tightly put together and held my interest reasonably well. Refreshingly, the violence is not mined for slickness or cool and is always suitably jarring and grisly, whilst Noomi Rapace isn’t fetishised as the girl and the scenes of sexual violence are allowed to be truly awful. The film presents a seedy and disturbing picture of modern Sweden as a place full of corrupt officials (to put it lightly), little public order (Lisbeth is brutally attacked in a public subway by a gang of young males early on in the film) and of ageing Nazi sympathisers. It’s a far cry from the usual image of an efficient and well-run, if bland, modern Sweden and whilst I can’t vouch for its authenticity, it is interesting to see. Indeed, last year’s much-lauded ‘Let the Right One In’ gave a similarly bleak representation of Sweden as a place full of disconnected alcoholic people, nasty school children and equally appalling weather.

If you are in the mood for a solid crime thriller (and you don’t want something a bit mad like the superior ‘Shutter Island’) then I would recommend you go and see ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’. However, I’m not sure how this film will play to the ITV 3 crowd as it is less cosy than your average hour with Angela Lansbury or David Suchet and involves considerably more rape and a less clean picture of murder. However, women who hate men are in for a real treat!

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' can still be seen in cinemas across the UK (and indeed the world) including the Duke of York's in Brighton where it continues its run until Thursday. It is rated '18' by the BBFC and a heavily censored version will be airing on ITV 3 next week (if there is any justice).

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