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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

If someone told you that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo featured Nazis, corporate titans, spies, graphic sex, gory violence, beautiful scenery, serial killers, incest, a car chase scene, and a dysfunctional family, you'd probably think that it was a mishmosh of every cliched Hollywood plot device, all thrown together into one big stew pot of a derivative movie.

But the movie actually fit all those elements into a seamless, coherent blend.

It rang true psychologically. It had intelligent protagonists (and villains). The protagonists solved the mystery through a combination of shoe leather and intelligence. The former, surprisingly enough, never got boring, and the latter was always dazzling. Everything made sense at the finish, and the movie had a viscerally satisfying ending.

Even the four or five subplots had gratifying endings.

Here's how good the movie was: after a while I didn't even notice that I was reading subtitles.  

Noomi Rapace was perfect as Lisbeth Salander, the antiheroine. She plays an abused girl who has developed an outsize sense of justice, and who has learned to fend for herself -- and effectively dispense some of that justice. Her toughness seems real. When she is assaulted by a bunch of hoodlums in a Swedish train station, she holds her own, not through any intricately choreographed martial arts moves, but simply because of her ferocity.

The movie did merit its R rating, but both the sex and violence were realistic, and not glamourized.

Rapace has a feral, intense look which is exactly right for the part. If she doesn't look entirely Swedish, it's because she's half Spanish, and her Spanish half is actually Gypsy. There does seem to be a certain mythic aspect to Swedish women. Most of the guys I know who've been to Sweden go there expecting to meet the Swedish bikini team, but come back reporting that most of the women look more like the Bryn Mawr debate team. (Did these guys deserve any better?)

Nonetheless, there are a couple of women in the movie who look as if they might have been part of that bikini team a couple decades back. (To my eyes they're still worthy of a tryout.)

The men are similarly well cast, though none are handsome. The hero, played by Michael Nykvist, instead merely has a weathered look, which substitutes surprisingly well. (Dolph Lundgren would have looked out of place anyway.)

Most reviewers use a four or five star scale for ranking movies. I prefer the Stanford-Binet scale: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had an IQ of 170.

It's available on DVD, or through your cable provider. See it.

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