Settling down on the sofa with my obligatory red wine and snacks I didn’t really know what to expect. I was certainly aware of the hype surrounding the novel and the original Swedish language movie but had, to my shame, not read/watched them. I knew little of what it was all about really – just the general gist of a murder/mystery type thing set in Sweden and whispers on the wind of quite a controversial scene. So I went into the film with little in the way of preconceptions and freed of the burden of comparisons with previous material.
A brief blurb for those who, like me, missed all the hype and failed to catch any of the previous material. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo tells the story of two professional investigators who are privately hired to investigate the unsolved mysterious disappearance of a young girl in the 60s by the family patriarch (Uncle Hienrich) of a wealthy Swedish family of industrial entrepreneurs. The first investigator, Mikhail Blomkvist, is a disgraced journalist who initially takes the case as a welcome distraction from the high profile libel case that has destroyed his career and reputation. The second; Lisbeth Salander, is an expert in digital surveillance and research, and has a troubled past with mental health problems and experiences of sexual abuse. Together their investigation of the case leads to a darker unsolved mystery as they delve deeper into the secrets of the missing girl’s journal and her reclusive family.
Getting the film started the weird Goth/Electronica opening of an Immigrant Song cover over strange and anguished oily graphics didn’t immediately inspire me with confidence (Actually felt like a twisted Bond style opening – for Daniel Craig maybe?). Perhaps it’s because I’m a Zep traditionalist and thought the cover was pretty bad, but perhaps more because it was like an audio/visual chalk board scrape from the outset. My Wife wondered out aloud at the time whether it was going to be a horror. Upon reflection, now that I have seen the film and can place the opening titles in context, it is obvious that they are a reflection of Lisbeth Salander’s mental and emotional state, all dark and angry, but for a first time viewer not knowing what to expect it was a bit off putting. Actually, writing this now I find myself wondering if that was Fincher’s intention – to put me on edge and place me psychologically dark mindset – if so, mission accomplished Mr Fincher, those titles were suitably intense.
The film soon settled into it’s rythym though and began introducing the key characters and main plot line with a suitable sense of intrigue, although you definitely have to be tuned in to watch this film as the dialogue is dense at times and characters and ideas are verbally introduced before they become relevant to the plot. The exposition heavy scenes are broken up by a sprinkling of more physical or energetic scenes (including THAT scene) which take Mikhail and Lisbeth away from sitting rooms & kitchen tables and bring a bit of action to the film.
Speaking of THAT scene – it is a brutal and disturbing piece of cinema that is pretty graphic and tough to watch. My wife felt the need to turn away as she was finding it that hard to see. This scene (and one other subsequent scene) are not for the feint hearted at all – it’s not just the violence but the fact it is sexualised violence from a source enacting a despicable abuse of power that makes it a challenging scene to watch. You’d have to be pretty cold not to be affected by it. Is it gratuitous? Well, what was going on could have perhaps been communicated in a less vivid & detailed manner I suppose, but I can’t deny how powerful and impactful the shock factor was. It was unrelenting.
The whole movie is crammed full to the brim with atmosphere. To start with; the setting. The outdoors are wide, sweeping shots that give you a real sense of how bitterly miserable and bleak the weather in Sweden is, while the indoors are made up of rooms full of Swedish minimalist design. As for ongoing narrative atmosphere – there was plenty of that going on; rarely have I felt so tense watching someone buy a coffee from a vending machine or look at photos on a laptop! It’s testimony to the quality of the acting, cinematography, and soundtrack that relatively mundane and routine activity like using a laptop or making a sandwich has such a tense, dark undertone of anxiety that placed me and the Wife in a constant state of suspense that was well satisfied by the film’s end.
I say the end; the film did feel about 20/30 minutes too long but I suspect that this is more to do with faithfulness to the original novel than any failing of Fincher’s. There is, in essence, two ends to this film as the main plot line concludes and a second, final conclusion as a subplot gets tied up. I felt like the extended tackling of the subplot seemed a bit strange and inconsistent in tone with the rest of the flick; going with an international espionage-y type motif. But, as I said, I get why it was there and it wasn’t entirely out of left-field as far as plotting goes.
So overall we found it a fine piece of cinema to get us through a quiet night in. It has some minor flaws but these were easily excusable and all in all it made for a good watch that we’d recommend.
- Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (booksandreviews.wordpress.com)