I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Netflix Instant streaming (which is fantastic for spontaneously watching movies that you missed or never wanted to pay theater prices for) and I was underwhelmed. I have not read the book, so I can’t speak as to the faithfulness of the film adaptation, but I can say that as a stand-alone Thriller, I found it lacking on many fronts. A film should stand on its own as a cohesive and satisfying narrative and not ask the audience to fill in the gaps, no matter if it was adapted from any kind of popular source material or it’s part one in a trilogy.
I’m a big fan of the genre and I’m always on the look-out for the next Great Thriller. I’m hoping for a new twist on classic Thriller archetypes and story engines driven by a character that I can emotionally invest in such that when they’re in danger I feel true tension for them. Think of Clarice Starling fumbling around in the dark, pistol out, as the serial killer Jame Gumb shadows her with the night-vision goggles. True terror.
Lisbeth Salander? You are no Clarice Starling. (Yes, Lisbeth is an interesting character; she’s the best thing about the film, but for me, she can’t make up for the many flaws in the story.)
If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t based on a best-selling book and I read it as a spec, I would have sent it back to the slush pile. Here’s why…
5 things wrong with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the Swedish movie):
1. Lisbeth and boys. Talk about repetition. Lisbeth Salander burns a guy alive in a flashback from her youth, ostensibly for revenge. Lisbeth tortures and rapes her probation officer, definitely for revenge after the bastard did the same to her. Lisbeth watches the serial killer burn in the overturned car…sweet revenge for all of those women he murdered. And in the end, Lisbeth steals millions from the unseen tycoon Wennerstrom and starts a new life; revenge for falsely convicting her new lover, Mikael Blomkvist.
That’s a lot of revenge on men. And perhaps explains why the original book and film were titled “Men Who Hate Women!” (Anyone know the story about when and why the title was changed for the Western market?) But my point is this…
What if she forgave one of those men? That would have subverted our dramatic expectations and been a truly shocking turn.
2. We never get to know the girl that was murdered. We see photos of her, but we don’t get to know her, thus we don’t emotionally connect with the fight for justice for her murder. This could have been shown in coherent flashbacks or Mikael’s dreams (a la Erik Bana imagining the kidnapping and murder of the athletes in Munich) or spending more time with the Vanger family…
3. Mikael never gets to know the extended family. He starts to get to know the sister… but that goes nowhere. He has a few quick scenes with the siblings which are repetitive and don’t reveal much in the way of character development or clues. Thus, we don’t get to know them, so when the true killer is revealed to be the brother with the least amount of screen time who is essentially a cipher, the impact of this beat is lessened. I suspect they cut scenes from the book that could have really helped to show Mikael forging a greater emotional connection with some of the siblings and a more powerful fear of others. The film attempts to fill in that emotional gap with an awkward device that relies on coincidence…
4. The Babysitter flashbacks. Huh? It just so happens that Mikael knew the murdered/missing girl/s when he was a child…and yet no one recognizes him or even mentions it? If this is the filmmakers’ lame attempt to give the hero a personal connection to the murder case, then… A) It’s not earned, and B) It’s not clear.
I’m not saying the Protagonist must have a personal connection to the victim, but if you’re going to go there, at least have it make sense. (For an example of a European thriller that forges a strong emotional connection between Protagonist and audience and also relates the murders to a wealthy family with a dark secret, see Tell No One.)
And now for my ultimate pet-peeve, the biggest cliche on film these days…
5. Those darn Nazis! OF COURSE the killer has some connection to Nazis and the Holocaust. It’s set somewhere in Europe, isn’t it? Forget the fact that the murder occurred in 1966, this killer was still really mad at those Jews!
With that said, the movie had bright spots and held my attention, but with all the hype, I was expecting more. Let’s hope David Fincher and Steven Zaillian’s American remake improves upon the Swedish original.
Good Luck and Happy Writing,
p.s. What did you think of this film? Sound off in the comments below.