The Girl Who Watched Tattooed Girls

Even though I looked forward to seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I held on to a small amount of skepticism so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if it turned out crappy. I’m happy to report the concern was unwarranted. The movie is exactly as I wanted it to be—a tight, tense thriller which stays faithful to Stieg Larsson’s book while bringing Lisbeth Salander, the extraordinary character at its core, vividly to life, hot as the fire she plays with.

The movie strips away a lot of exposition at the beginning of the novel by jumping right into the plot of an old wealthy businessman, Henrik Vanger, summoning disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist to his estate to look into the 40-year-old disappearance of Vanger’s niece, Harriet. Salander, tattooed girl and brilliant computer hacker, does the background check on Blomkvist for Vanger but continues to secretly track the writer’s progress in the case even after her job is done. When she finally reveals herself by e-mailing him an important lead, the two team up to solve the mystery, one much more deviant and deadly than they imagined.

Reading the book, I thought it might be impossible for any actress to do justice to Lisbeth, who’s punked out, idiot savant-y, waifish, ferocious, antisocial, and unpredictable but utterly captivating. It’s amazing, then, to see how spot-on Rapace is, nailing all of Lisbeth’s complexities, disappearing completely into her skin (in real life, Rapace is much softer looking; she shaved her hair and got multiple piercings for the sake of authenticity). Even though Lisbeth doesn’t speak much, her thoughts and emotions come out through Rapace’s eyes, telling us what pages of dialogue probably couldn’t. Whoever takes over this role in the American remake has giant shoes—or rather, black leather shit kickers—to fill.

Everything else in the movie also comes pretty close to my mental pictures, including Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist and the violent scenes between Lisbeth and her sadistic legal guardian. Yes, they are disturbing to watch, but they are necessary to depict Larsson’s original title for this book, Men Who Hate Women, and director Niels Arden Oplev doesn’t linger on them any longer than Larsson did. Several subplots are pared down or eliminated altogether, but I didn’t miss them, nor did I feel the movie’s two-and-a-half-hour running time.

Nerd verdict: A dark, striking Tattoo.


The other movie I saw this weekend, The Runaways, about the rise to fame of the eponymous all-girl band in the ’70s, could’ve taken a lesson or two from Lisbeth when it came to exuding real girl power. Instead, Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie come across as blank little dolls putting on a tough act with no growl behind it. This isn’t their fault; both are fine actresses who were failed by an inadequate script and director Floria Sigismondi, who focused more on music-video-style flash than character development.

The movie starts with Jett buying a leather jacket right off a man’s back in a store and telling record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) at a club she’s going to form a band with only girls. Once Fowley plucks Currie’s jailbait blondness out of the crowd to front the band, however, the focus shifts away from Jett, which is a major misstep. Since Currie quickly disappeared from the spotlight, I didn’t care about her story; it’s like asking me to be invested in what happened to the lead singer of, say, Kajagoogoo. Jett had huge success post-Runaways and is still touring and making music today. I want to know what makes her tick but the movie gives me no clue.

Stewart, with her jet-black shag, has Jett’s looks down cold (she’s rumored to head Sony’s list to play Lisbeth) and probably could’ve done more for the movie if she’d been given a story arc along with a guitar to play. Fanning, on the other hand, should’ve just said no. She tries hard but is too soft to make a convincing sexpot, punk-rock singer. She’s not dirrty enough. The romantic scenes between her and Stewart, perhaps meant to be provocative or edgy, are simply confusing because it’s never clear what kind of relationship they had. Similarly confounding is how Lita Ford, the band’s lead guitarist who went on to have a few hits as a solo artist, wasn’t even mentioned in the where-are-they-now end notes. Not only couldn’t the film be bothered with its characters’ backstories, it left out their future stories, too.

Nerd verdict: Stay away from Runaways.

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Brett Battles
    March 22, 2010 at 5:52 am

    I’ll second you on DRAGON TATTOO. Outstanding. In fact yesterday I was still thinking about it so much that I wrote a post about Rapace’s performance that will appear on Murderati this Thursday. It’s going to be hard to beat this film as my favorite of the year.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

      I look forward to reading it, Brett. Rapace dug deep for this performance.

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    March 22, 2010 at 6:23 am

    I’m still anxious about reading the book, and now excited about watching the movie…may have to be on video, though, if I don’t get going on the book. I do have it waiting for me on audio at the library, so hopefully soon.

    I’m wondering though if Dakota Fanning will be forever cursed from her early roles. Not saying that she isn’t a good actress, but like Tom Hanks…he can nail the “bad guy” role and still be perceived as a good guy because of his work he’s best known for. Hate when that happens to an actor.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm

      Get it soon, Jen, so you can read the sequels, too!

      I guess time will tell how Dakota fares with adult roles. I was thinking about Meg Ryan, whom I never bought as an alcoholic (When a Man Loves a Woman) or as a tough helicopter pilot (Courage Under Fire).

  • Reply
    Novelwhore
    March 22, 2010 at 6:38 am

    Ohh now that it has your stamp of approval, I’ll definitely go see DRAGON TATTOO. Did the subtitles bother you at all? I’m not a huge fan since they’re read faster than spoken. But for this movie I’m compelled to give it a try.

    I had no interest in The Runaways – I’m not a fan of Stewart. After her miserable Oscars performance I don’t know why I would pay to see her on screen.

    • Reply
      Christine
      March 22, 2010 at 9:09 am

      Until now, I’ve only watched subtitled movies at home where I can pause and rewind on the DVR if I think I missed anything. DRAGON TATOO will be a little different as it’ll be the first one I’ve seen based on a book I’ve read. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes the experience for me, NW.

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        March 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm

        It did make a difference to me, Christine. Like I said to novelwhore, I could still follow along if I got caught up in the action and skipped a few subtitles.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm

      The subtitles didn’t bother me. Just read them fast so you can pull your eyes up and watch the action. Since you’ve read the book, it shouldn’t be a problem. If you miss a few subtitles, you’d still know what’s going on.

  • Reply
    Christine
    March 22, 2010 at 9:04 am

    After yours and Brett’s enthusiastic endorsements, I’m really looking forward to see DRAGON TATOO! Other than how they could possibly butcher the book, my biggest concern was bringing Lisbeth to life on the screen. Glad to know that Rapace won’t disappoint!

    And how can you have a movie about the Runaways and not mention Lita Ford? If the writing was as bad as you say, my guess would be that if Lita had anything to say about it, she’d probably told them to keep her out of it. No doubt Kristen Stewart would be able to get Joan Jett’s look. (However, I’m begging the powers-that-be to please keep her away from playing Lisbeth!)

    Great reviews, PCN! Thanks.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      It was such a relief to watch Rapace’s performance. Lisbeth is such a great creation, I would’ve been quite angry if the actress had ruined it.

      Lita Ford is in The Runaways, but in a very minor way. She only got one big scene in which she’s yelling at Cherie because she was fed up with her getting all the attention.

      I’m with you in keeping Kristen Stewart away from Lisbeth. Other names I’ve heard bandied about include Natalie Portman and Carey Mulligan, but really, Sony should just let Rapace do it again. She speaks English just fine (check out this video of her talking about prepping for the role).

      • Reply
        Christine
        March 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

        You’re right, PCN…her english is strong enough for the American version! Thanks for the link! (Watched some of the other teasers/trailers for the next two Millenium movies while in youtube. Just from those it seems that she nailed Lisbeth’s character.)

  • Reply
    le0pard13
    March 22, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Thanks for the heads up on TGWTDT (some of the other reviews I’ve read on it gave it high marks, too). What do you think? I haven’t read/listened to the book as yet, so do you recommend I still take the film in first (while it’s out in the theaters), or wait until I do read the novel? I’m use to reading sub-titles, and waiting until a Hollywood studio remakes this is one of the last things I want to do.

    THE RUNAWAYS seems to suffer (by reviews) on the lack of a good script and Fanning’s miscasting. I heard that it needed more focus on Jet/Stewart than the Curie/Fanning character. BTW, I hope Dakota Fanning does better with movie career adolescence than Macaulay Culkin did with his.

    Thanks, PCN.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      That’s a tough question, lp13. If you watch the film first, you’ll know all the twists. If you read the book first, you may not get to watch it on the big screen, which I think is important because its box-office take will determine whether or not the sequels get a distribution deal here. We agree on one thing: You don’t want to wait until the American remake to experience it.

      I hope Dakota Fanning’s career will be more like Jodie Foster’s than Macaulay Culkin’s!

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    March 22, 2010 at 10:40 am

    I actually went and saw The Girl/Tattoo this weekend as well. I mistakenly read a number of reviews mentioning the plot had been stripped down and that fans of the book might be angry about it. I marched into the theater with my indignation in tow prepared to make some noise. Much to my surprise, I loved it. It was a packed house and I had to sit way down in front, but the filmmakers did a great job with the book. The subplots they got rid of do not detract from the storyline. The performances were great. I do wish the subtitles were in yellow as opposed to white so they were easier to read, but I don’t think I missed anything. I enjoyed it a lot. I don’t really see the need for the American remake.

    Glad you liked it as well, PCN.

    Haven’t seen The Runaways yet. Will probably wait for the dvd.

    BTW: I must confess….I am the lead singer for Kajagoogoo. Thanks for asking about me. LOL!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

      Oh, don’t even bother with The Runaways on DVD. You can skip it altogether.

      Glad to hear you’re doing well after Kajagoogoo!

  • Reply
    READER#9
    March 22, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Wasted my money on THE RUNAWAYS this weekend. I didn’t know much about the band prior to the film, but I liked Joan Jett and I read a couple of decent reviews, so I figured I would check it out. I mean, why would they make a movie about an uninteresting subject, right?

    OMIGOD, this sucked. I can’t imagine how this thing got made. There were only two moments of truth in the entire film! And neither of the leads had those moments! The actress who played the cashier at a grocery store when Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) calls her a profanity laced name owned the reaction on her face! The second moment is really the entire performance of Stella Maeve as Runaways’ drummer, Sandy West. Ms. Maeve comes off as the only person in the entire film who isn’t “acting.” I believed that actress in that situation in that time period. Sure, Kristen Stewart looks like Jett, but I didn’t get any sense of who she was by the time the film was over. I didn’t care either.

    Honorable Mention: Keir O’Donnell as DJ Rodney Bingenheimer was hilarious. I could not stop laughing!! I knew that voice from KROQ! Perfect!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      You mentioned the best parts of the movie—the look on that cashier’s face and the hilarious DJ! But yeah, I was angry I wasted my evening and money.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    March 22, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    This is out here already with advanced screenings ~ there’s a lot to be said for foreign films. 🙂 I’ll hold off, because I’ve been wanting to read the book since you first reviewed it, and failed in my miserable first attempt on a fast-track library loan ~ I struggled with the exposition, so I kind of like that the movie strips away a lot of that. AND a girlfriend has just loaned me the book unprompted, so no more excuses!! Seems to make sense to have Rapace do the US version.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 23, 2010 at 10:52 am

      Yay! I remember our discussion last year. I’m convinced that you can’t get away from it. I read a statistic somewhere that 1 in 3 Swedes have read at least one of the books in the trilogy. That’s amazing to me. I don’t know if we have anything that approaches that status here in the States.

    • Reply
      Christine
      March 23, 2010 at 11:06 am

      Break on through, Shell, and I promise you won’t regret it. I remember having to push myself to keep going initially, too. Once it really got rolling, I was so grateful that my husband had the 2nd book that I could jump right into!

      One other thing I had to get past when I first starting reading it was the Swedish names of people and places. Other than The Muppets’ Swedish Chef, I have no (proper) concept of pronunciations in the language. So, I’d find myself getting bogged-down in trying to figure it out until I gotta grip and let it go. ;0)

    • Reply
      Brett Battles
      March 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm

      Ironically, I was out to dinner last night with two friends from Sweden who just happened to be in town for the evening. Both had read the books, and I got the impression that most of the rest of Sweden had done so, too. So I fully believe the 1 in 3 stat. Dive in, and you won’t regret it. Of the three, DRAGON starts off the slowest (not that it’s slow, just has more of a build up.) THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE takes off like a rocket. And though I’m only in the beginning of THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, it gets going pretty good, too.

      Oh, and so I only have to write this one reply (yeah, call me lazy) thanks PCN for the link. Noomi can definitely pull off the English. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m borrowing that link for that post I talked about earlier that’ll be up on Thursday.)

  • Reply
    David
    May 19, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Anyone know if the remakes will supposedly take place in the US or will it still be in Sweden?

    • Reply
      Brett Battles
      May 19, 2010 at 4:44 am

      Neither. Word is it will be set in Canada.

      • Reply
        David
        May 19, 2010 at 5:23 am

        Makes sense, I suppose. Canada is something is a little bit like a mix of the two countries in some ways.

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          May 19, 2010 at 10:33 am

          David, Brett,

          I read this in the Reporter last week. Looks like they might keep it in Sweden after all!

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