Movie Review: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larrson died in 2004, but his Millenium trilogy was released posthumously to much fanfare and critical acclaim.  The first novel in the series, Män som hatar kvinnor (“Men Who Hate Women”), was turned into a Swedish film in 2009, and an English language remake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, hit U.S. theatres a couple weeks ago.  I myself knew nothing about the film going in except that my wife loved the book and the previews looked interesting (though I grew a little sick of them over time).   Note that I have not read any of Larrson’s trilogy, nor have I watched the original Swedish film.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thrilling crime drama about a disgraced Swedish journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig), who is hired by a wealthy businessman to investigate the death of his teenage niece 40 years earlier.  He enlists a troubled but talented ward-of-the-state, Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara) to assist him in his investigation.  Twists and turns abound, not all is what it initially seems, and I will spare you any further discussion of the plot, just in case you want to enter the theatre about as ignorant as I was.

This is one of those rare movies in which virtually everything goes right. I was thoroughly engrossed in every way, and I have no major complaints. I loved the understated, polished acting, especially of the Salander character (I worried a bit that, given her dark fetish costuming, she would be over the top, but I was wrong).   The script was fine. The cinematography was gorgeous.  I have a thing for Scandinavian architecture and design, so I loved the film visually in all sorts of ways.  The plot was gripping and suspenseful throughout.  The opening credits are a visual and auditory feast (Trent Reznor co-produces a cover version of a classic Zeppelin song!), and I can’t remember the last time I said that about any movie.  I suppose, if I have to offer up criticisms, I will give two:  (1) I’m not sure I like the fact that Salander beds Blomkvist (it seemed gratuitous); (2) The final portion of the film, devoted to Salander’s and Blomkvist’s take down of corrupt businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, seemed rushed.  But these are minor quibbles.

Having said that, in case you haven’t heard already, there’s a rape scene. Or, to be more precise, there’s a RAPE SCENE. It is (too) long, it is somewhat graphic, it was (for me) rather unpleasant to watch.  Defenders of its inclusion in the film will no doubt point out that it was necessary to understand the psychology of the female heroine.  And they are right.  Doesn’t mean a viewer can’t wish for a little less though, does it?  Defenders will also claim that because it precedes another, very graphic revenge counter-scene — that is quite satisfying in its payback — this makes the first scene (a) necessary; and (b) less unpleasant in the context of the whole.  Right again on both counts.  Some will contexualize Larsson’s literary focus on sexual violence against women by pointing out that it arises out of his own guilt at failing to stop a gang rape when he was a teenager, thereby making its inclusion in the book (and thus, film) easier to understand.  Right again.  Still, though.  Know what you’re getting into before you watch this flick.

Part of what makes rape scenes unpleasant (though by no means the only thing) is my sneaking suspicion that others aren’t finding them unpleasant.  I still vividly remember reading Roger Ebert’s review of I Spit on Your Grave many years ago, in which he describes the sociopathic, misogynistic outbursts of a fellow moviegoer, during and after each of that film’s repeated rape scenes.  Ebert was mortified and disturbed.  And who can blame him?  I thankfully haven’t experienced anything like this at the movies myself, but I can still vicariously live through Roger.

Also, I found myself comparing this scene to a similar one in The Last House on the Left.  This one wasn’t quite as disturing as that one.  Not entirely sure why, since the former similarly led to some outlandish, satisfying payback later on, but I’ll spare you any further analysis.  (I can’t believe I’m even typing this sentence, or that I’m actually evaluating the relative merits of these things).

Anyway, be aware of the unpleasantness I’ve just mentioned, but also know that if you can stomach it, you will have an enjoyable time.  I heartily recommend this fantastic film.

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10 thoughts on “Movie Review: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

  1. Jeremy, my wife and I just watched the Swedish version this evening. Like you say, it was great. While I probably liked the English version a bit better over all, I was surprised to find that I preferred the Swedish treatment of certain scenes more than I did the English. Certain aspects of the plot were simplified in the new version, and I’m not sure why.

  2. Thanks for this overview, Aaron. I look forward to seeing this when in comes out on video next year.

    I just finished the book last week. (All the hoopla over the movie got me interested.) Ironically, the two main criticisms you had of the movie (Salander bedding Blomkvist and the rushed financial affair) were the same two main criticisms I had of the book. I was actually hoping they’d cut out the Wennerstrom storyline from the movie, because if it seemed rushed and tangential to the book I was sure it would be only worse in the movie.

  3. You’re not alone, Aaron. I’ve seen LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, both the original Wes Craven version and the recent remake.

    I think people who know of LAST HOUSE only by reputation may find your comparison absurd, but having read the novel DRAGON TATTOO, I see where you’re coming from. There are relevant comparisons. LAST HOUSE actually has Scandinavian roots. Craven based his screenplay on the Ingmar Bergman film THE VIRGIN SPRING which is a true classic and based on a Swedish fable.

    I will probably get around to seeing the film adaptation of DRAGON TATTOO, just because I felt the book was overhyped, overrated, male fantasy crap, which is just the kind of thing I normally love, but it was also deadly boring at times, with a long, drawn out pointless ending.

    I can’t imagine how a film version could be any worse.

  4. I really enjoyed the books so I look forward to seeing this movie version of it. The treatment of Wennerstrom is sort of important for events that take place in the next two installments, as far as Lisbeth’s situation.

    I hear they actually took out one of Blomkvist’s “romances” for time reasons in the movie. He kinda sleeps around a bit, but has a pretty laid-back view on it.

    Lisbeth is really fascinating as a character. I found myself picturing her as Kalinda from The Good Wife.

  5. Thanks for the review. Even though I’ve read the trilogy and loved each book, I haven’t seen any of the films. I was a little afraid to see the graphic violence, even though reading about it didn’t bother me toooo much. I might start with the Swedish versions so I can watch marathon-style. Are parts 2 & 3 in the making for the American versions?

  6. I don’t know for sure, meems, but I can’t imagine that they won’t be. Incidentally, all 3 Swedish films are currently streaming on Netflix. I plan on watching 2 and 3 here shortly.

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