Monday, February 20, 2012

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Rhoades)

“Girl With Dragon Tattoo”
Gets Stylish Remake

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Swedish journalist Karl Stig-Erland “Stieg” Larsson was the editor of Expo, a magazine devoted to exposing right-wing extremism.
So he sat down at night and wrote a novel he called “Män som hatar kvinnor” (translation: “Men Who Hate Women”) about a journalist who battles right-wing extremists. Published posthumously, it was retitled “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
All told, Stieg Larsson wrote three books and was working on a fourth when he died. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” are essentially one long story told in three parts. This trio of crime novels – collectively known as the Millennium Series – have sold more than 27 million copies in over 40 countries.
Ironically, Larsson didn’t set out to be a crime novelist. He preferred science fiction. Early on, he edited a sci-fi fanzine called Sfären. And he served as president of Sweden’s largest science fiction fan club.
Politically, Larsson was involved with the Communist Workers League and at one time edited Fjärde Internationalen, a journal with a Trotskyist message.
A committed activist, 1977 found him in the Horn of Africa training Eritrean People’s Liberation Front guerrillas how to use grenade launchers. Concerned with the rights of women, he oversaw an all-female EPLF squad. He was determined to make them self-sufficient. However, after contracting a kidney disease, he was forced to return to Sweden.
Back home, he started the Swedish Expo Foundation whose stated mission was to “counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people.” An anti-skinheads crusade. And he edited the foundation’s small magazine, the aforementioned Expo.
As a gonna-bust-this-town-wide-open crusading journalist, Stieg Larsson bore more than a little resemblance to his fictional character Mikael Blomkvist. Since Larsson’s day job was devoted to rooting out dreary facts about scary Neo-Nazi groups, at night he wrote novels for his own amusement. And as literary critics often advise, he wrote about what he knew: Right-wing extremists who prey on women.
The first novel told the story of a journalist hooking up with a tattooed, punked-out, leather-clad girl whose eidetic memory makes her a great researcher. Lisbeth Salander is really the heroine of the piece, helping Blomkvist find a girl who went missing on a Swedish island some 36 years ago. Along the way, Lisbeth takes on several “män som hatar kvinnor.”
Since the young girl disappeared on an isolated island, Larsson saw this as a classic “Locked Room Mystery.” But with a message. As one observer summed it up: “His favorite targets are violence against women, the incompetence and cowardice of investigative journalists, the moral bankruptcy of big capital, and the virulent strain of Nazism still festering away ...” in Swedish society.
Yellow Bird Films produced three well-done movies based on Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I highly recommend them, especially the first one. And thus I was surprised when hot director David Fincher (“The Social Network”) announced he was going to make a Hollywood version. Why bother? Niels Arden Oplev’s original film didn’t need improving.
While Fincher’s version is not necessarily an improvement, it’s equally good. A stylish and visually rich retelling. And I (contrary to my expectation) recommend it. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
In the original, the journalist was played to perfection by Michael Nyqvist and the tattooed researcher (read: computer hacker) was outstandingly portrayed by Noomi Rapace. (You will be seeing her as the Gypsy in the new “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” movie).
For this English-language redo, David Fincher turned to a bigger-name star. With the James Bond movie series at a standstill, recent 007 Daniel Craig has stepped into the role of Mikael Blomkvist, the world-weary journalist at the heart of these stories. And in a star-making gesture, Fincher has cast Rooney Mara (she had a minor role in “The Social Network”) as the titular Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Note: She’s already been nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress for the role.
Fincher’s is a faithful adaptation, filmed in Sweden. He’s surrounded Craig and Rooney with a great supporting cast that includes Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, and Stellan Skarsgård.
As for Stieg Larsson, he died of a heart attack while climbing the stairs at his office (the elevator wasn’t working). His will left everything to the Socialist Party, but because it was unwitnessed all the royalties from his books have reverted to his estranged father and distant brother. Left with nothing, Larsson’s live-in girlfriend Eva Gabrielsson intends to complete the unfinished novel left on his computer. Larsson had planned out ten books in the Millennium Series.
Because of all the death threats Larsson received as editor of Expo, there were rumors that right-wing forces were behind his demise. Not so, says his publisher. Life (and death) is not always as exciting as fiction. Or movies.

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