People watch movies for different reasons. There are people who watch film as an intellectual exercise and those who go for entertainment value and nothing more. These two camps generally stay separated from one another: it is rare to see the average summer movie-goer at your local art house cinema but that is not to say that there cannot be an overlap.
Those who only read this site and do not know me personally likely suspect me to be a ‘cinema snob’ due to my predilection towards writing about independent and foreign film. I write about these films because I love the experience of thinking about a movie, seeing different cultures and hearing stories I have never heard before; I also saw the new Iron Man movie this weekend. While I did not particularly enjoy that specific film, there are instances in which I love the Hollywood blockbuster as much as the next guy. The point is that it is ok for a movie to only aspire towards being entertaining as long as it does so effectively. In a camp all its own is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a new Swedish release by director Niels Arden Oplev, is a blockbuster genre-exercise aimed at an art house audience and it is a great success.
When I went to see this film at my local art house theatre, (Burns Court Cinema in Sarasota, Florida), I did not really know what to expect. I had heard some positive critical response to the movie but did not have any prior-knowledge of the plot or the tone of the film. I was pleased to find that similarly to last year’s Swedish break-out, Let the Right One In, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was an earnestly crafted, modern-take on traditional genre filmmaking. While Let the Right One In was a new take on the vampire movie, this film sets its sights on the crime-thriller/detective story.
The story centers around a rich man who believes his niece was murdered by another member of his family decades ago. He hires an investigative journalist who is facing jail-time for the use of fraudulent evidence in one of his stories to try and solve the case. The journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, decides to take on the mystery and begins to systematically follow each of the leads he can find. Eventually, some of the clues he has found begin to mysteriously solve themselves on his computer and he tracks down Lisbeth Salander, the professional computer hacker who has been watching him. Lisbeth quickly becomes the most interesting character in the movie.
Lisbeth is an independent goth girl who is on probation for some unnamed offense. She is a very efficient computer hacker and is hired by a security company to gather information about people of interest to independent parties. She has some of the most difficult scenes in the movie (including a few that depict sexual violence towards women) but she holds her own and it is hard as an audience member not to cheer her on.
During the movie’s 2.5 hour running time, the mystery is solved piece by piece. It is extremely gratifying to be an audience member and feel that the mystery actually adds up and there are no loose ends left unaddressed. The film works as an effective thriller with exciting scenes, great characters and an engaging story.
The audience in my theatre was comprised primarily of older movie snobs. I listened to them talking on their way out of the theatre and they were extremely positive about the film. I couldn’t help but think to myself that if this same film had been made in Hollywood without sub-titles, the same audience would have been avoiding it like the plague and in turn, the audience who is afraid of foreign language films would be piling into the theatre.