Tripe thrills 

Sweden's Dragon Tattoo leaves no mark

The American visiting Sweden for the first time will quickly notice the fondness its young people have for quoting lines from American movies and songs to one another. Sometimes it is for the sake of the American present: almost an ironic acknowledgment of the pervasiveness of American culture, though usually affectionate. Other times Swedes can be heard to do this to amuse each other when they presumably think no one else is listening. Thus can the American, fighting the urge to look up from his nipponsoppa, overhear a young businessmen at an adjacent table politely decline the daily lunch special with a cool "I just don't dig on swine" in a passable Samuel L. Jackson impression.

So too with Swedish thrillers. So liberally do the directors of these pictures borrow from the lexicon of Hollywood thrillers, they seem to have forgotten Sweden's traditional cinematic language as well. The movies themselves sometimes give the impression of having been cobbled together from snippets of American movies with added footage of Swedish actors, then entirely overdubbed in Swedish and misleadingly re-captioned with English subtitles.

click to enlarge Personal space, dude. Personal space.
  • Personal space, dude. Personal space.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just such a movie. There isn't an innovative or original thing about it. It just happens to be set in Stockholm instead of, say, Seattle. To the extent the movie offers anything new except sexual violence that is extreme by Swedish movie standards (less so by American standards, and not a patch on French ones if Irreversible is any indication), the innovations are almost purely geographical.

Cliched suspense music? Check. Righteous nemesis and latent revenge fantasies? Check. Journalist shot at by an unknown sniper for snooping in the wrong underwear drawer? Check. The further one gets into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the longer grows the laundry list of the depressingly familiar. It's like drinking a fountain Coke in Sweden, indeed almost anywhere in Europe—just not the same thing, and anyway why come all this way to drink a Coke? Isn't there something local to try?

This vexes me about Swedish thrillers and crime dramas in much the same way these "Keep Missoula Weird" bumper stickers vex me about Missoula. It bespeaks a certain obliviousness to Missoula's enchanted isolation that anyone would look for outside inspiration in the matter of coining a "local" slogan. And then to swipe another city's motto and simply swap out "Austin" for "Missoula" just makes the rest of us look silly and unoriginal. In reading other reviews of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, largely glowing, I feel likewise cursed by the same acuity (call it cynicism if you must). I wouldn't call the movie garbage, but a pale paragon of an already sapped-out genre it certainly is.

There are good things about it, like some of the actors. Michael Nyqvist is becoming a familiar face in Swedish imports; he was great as the alcoholic dad in Lukas Moodysson's period commune comedy Together (Swedish movie comedies, in contrast to crime thrillers, do usually have a certain national sensibility), and he's a reassuring presence here playing a defrocked journalist privately researching a 40-year-old crime involving a very wealthy and unpleasant family. Noomi Rapace has garnered rave reviews for her portrayal of punk-rock computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in what turns out to be—oh, goody—the first in a movie trilogy based on the novels of the late Stieg Larsson, but I wasn't similarly impressed. The movie's biggest flaw, perhaps, is its writers' insistence on rendering Lisbeth purely in terms of costume and posture and then hoping her character will develop itself. We're supposed to think we know all about her just by looking at her bondage gear and nose-rings, bearing in mind that she's got some vague "violent past," but for my money she never gets much past the posturing and the chain-smoking.

The worst is that the movie seems so blissfully aware of its hackneyedness (director Niels Arden Oplev is a Dane, for what it's worth, but at least he had the sense to distance himself from the Dogme 95 movement, Denmark's failed elitist attempt to consciously create a new national cinema). The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is essentially a feature-length plea for a lucrative remake, and in fact there's already an American version under development with David Fincher at the helm. I'm willing to bet that the remake will for once be better, because for once in recent memory the American movie industry has chosen to remake a foreign property not on the glib assumption that it can do the same thing better, but with something closer to dead certainty. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is simply a Swedish sandlot version of the kind of movie Hollywood produces in the dozens every year. We can do better, which in this case is not to say especially good.

This will sound presumptuous and condescending, but I know Sweden can do better, too. I wish a little of the strange local flavor of Swedish comedies—what was the one with researchers perched on platforms silently taking notes on the ergonomics of Swedish kitchens?—would seep into other genres. There are simply other movies Sweden makes much better.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo continues at the Wilma Theatre.

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