Friday, April 30, 2010

The Trifecta Plot

One of the perks of our crash pad here in Louisville is (that old real estate mantra) location. Our apartment is a shithole, but it's located in Louisville's historic Cherokee Triangle and adjacent to the fashionable Bardstown Road. One of the great things here is a fairly new multiplex theater that, true to the area's learned and progressive tendencies, favors foreign and independent films.

Today's film hails from Sweden: Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009). Based on a trilogy of posthumously-published books by Stieg Larsson (who looks to be a very interesting study in himself), the movie actually tells a triple tale. The first thread opens the story with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) being convicted of libel after authoring an in-depth magazine exposé of a corrupt industrialist. We sense from the first that Blomkvist is a straight-shooter and that there's something fishy about the libel conviction.

But before there's a chance to look further into the matter we rush headlong into thread No. 2: Blomkvist has a six-month reprieve before he must report for his three-month prison sentence, and in this hiatus he is hired by an old man to investigate the disappearance and presumed murder of the old man's niece some 40 years before. This thread accounts for the bulk of the movie. Blomkvist moves out of Stockholm to a small cottage on the old man's property and begins to sift through decades of material to see if there's any foothold to be found in the cold case. The old man lives on an island with other members of his family (presumably the island is family-owned), the whole family being wealthy inheritors of a large industrial concern. But relations among family members are quite contentious and dysfunctional and the family members are basically not speaking to one another. Blomkvist's investigation into the girl's murder promises to implicate one or more of them, and not surprisingly no one is very welcoming to him. On the contrary, as it turns out.

The third thread involves the film's most intriguing character, a disturbed but brilliant young woman named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). Salander is a professional computer hacker, and has been hired by an investigative firm to look into Michael Blomkvist's affairs. Her investigation, as it happens, occurs at the behest of the old man wishing to hire Blomkvist. After she skillfully uncovers every speck of dirt on Blomkvist, Salander becomes convinced the journalist's libel conviction is spurious; and although her responsibility with this investigation is complete she finds herself with a continuing interest. She appears at a glance to be the story's unconventional character; with her multiple piercings and dyed hair and tattoos and very emo aspect, she stands in stark contrast to everybody else in the movie.

But her own story is a dark one. We don't know what has led her to her present condition, but she's clearly a pretty damaged person, perhaps even a borderline antisocial personality. She seems to have no family or ties to anyone and there are several allusions to a history of mental problems. Though she is said to be 24, she has a guardian who oversees her (apparently as a court-appointed service). When her previous guardian has a stroke, she is assigned a most unfortunate replacement; this leads her story to an even darker and more disturbing place. But that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and she has come too far to just lie down in the face of additional adversity. It's not pleasant to watch, but this part of the film serves to define her character for us as if she were chiseled out of stone.

Meanwhile, Salander's ongoing hacking of Blomkvist's computer keeps her rather spookily up to date with his investigation of the 40-year-old murder. When he gets stuck on some details, she simply cannot help solving his problems and taunting him a bit with it. He tracks her down and asks for her help, and an unusual partnership is formed.

I won't give away how everything wraps up, but I will say that I absolutely loved the film--its look, its pacing, the whole cast, the intricacy of the story. The film's setting in the remote Swedish winter is breathtakingly beautiful, and everything has a washed-out color palette much like Roman Polanski's recent Ghost Writer. It's all first-rate. Everything up to the very end, where I will lodge a mild protest. Lizbeth Salander ends up in a sunny enough place (which is giving nothing away since there are two more books covering her story), but by way of developments that seem to be at odds with the character we've spent the movie getting to know. It doesn't spoil the film, and who's to say what might not be coming in the next installment? So I may be all wet.

The original film release carried the Swedish title Män som hatar kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women. The American title The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the title of the first book of Larsson's trilogy, as it turns out. But that title doesn't quite match the movie, and until I sat down to write this little review I had intended to remark that our title imparts a slight skew that helps direct our focus away from the evident. But back to that Men Who Hate Women title: If I didn't know better, I'd have been left fearing that the cold North air was somehow deleterious to the ethical faculties of Swedish men en masse. Thankfully, one of my best friends is from Sweden, and I'm here to attest (hopefully) that this film no more represents Swedish men than, say, The Silence of the Lambs represents American men. Because this is a pretty grim two-and-a-half hour depiction of Scandinavian masculinity. (OK, and Swedish women don't come off so well either.)

Still, well-crafted and most engaging.

Grade: A-


dbackdad said...

I've heard really good things about this film and will definitely check it out if I can find it.

Dzesika said...

This is playing at the indie cinema next door from the coffee house where I'm sitting right now ... highly tempted to stick around until it's on tonight!

CyberKitten said...

I missed the film when it was out here. I have the books though.... I'll check the movie out when it comes around on DVD.

wunelle said...

Did you review the books CK? Now I'm wondering if I shouldn't give them a look.

CyberKitten said...

Haven't read it/them yet.... [grin]

wunelle said...

I've nabbed the first volume and plan to start on my long flight up to Anchorage this afternoon! I thought about skipping the first book--the general outlines of which are well know to me now--and going right to the second, but decided there was just too much I'd be missing that way.

The woman at the bookstore checkout had read them and agreed that one MUST start at the beginning. "Good luck putting it down once you're underway," she said threateningly.

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