where the writers are
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Man som hatar kvinnor)
Noomi Rapace as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’ve been feeling like Woody Allen in one of his early movies where he’s sitting among dour people on a stopped train, and he looks over and sees another train with happy, laughing people. For me, the other train is filled with people reading and loving the book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson.

I enjoy a good mystery, but that book didn’t grab me. I couldn’t finish the first chapter. Am I too harsh? Everyone else seems to have loved it. Thus I went to see the Swedish movie version with subtitles in hopes of understanding the phenomenon—and I enjoyed it. I happen to like foreign films, swimming with the foreign sounds and identifying with the characters.

Helmed by Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, the story involves an idealistic Swedish journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who’s been sued for libel by a rich capitalist over an expose by Blomkvist.  The journalist loses and must pay a heavy fine and go to jail for six months. Before he goes to jail, however, another rich capitalist, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), eightysomething, hires Blomkvist to find out why his favorite niece, Harriet, disappeared decades earlier. Vanger suspects one of his relatives, three of whom were active Nazis during World War II.

Before hiring Blomkvist, one of Vanger’s relatives has used the services of a top computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), to check out the journalist. She finds he’s one of the more honest men around, and after the job, she continues to monitor Blomkvist’s email and finds him trying to solve a puzzle. She’s a damn good researcher and helps him anonymously with a clue. She also has a dragon tattoo, dresses in black, has nose rings, and pretty much satisfies the kind of imagery of a hot chick in video games, though skinnier and less round. The journalist and researcher get together.

Many men don’t treat women well in this story, which gives reason why the Swedish title of the book and movie is “Men Who Hate Women.”  In fact, there are two rape scenes that are hard to watch, yet they're mild compared to what wasn't filmed. The theme is as clear as a dragon tattoo—yet Blomkvist is a great guy and gives the male of the species hope.

The mystery is solid and involving—nearly as good as Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. There are not as many intriguing and haunting shots as in Polanski’s film, yet it was easy to get caught up in the Swedish countryside. The nearly three-hour film whisks by.

On a side note, I couldn’t help but notice how fast the Swedish trains are, and how fast Lisbeth’s computer streams data wirelessly while in a speeding car in a rural area. America is not the technological marvel we sometimes think it is.

To see the trailer for the film, click here.

To see the trailer for The Ghost Writer, click here.

5 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Chris- I'm with you in

Chris- I'm with you in disappointment on the book -- and haven't seen the movie, though I hear it's good (but why Brad Pitt already wants to make it again is beyond me). But I'm not a big mystery/suspense fan to begin with. I loved Hammitt and Chander and I read everything by them and I'd ask my mystery fan friends who the "new" ones are and they'd tell me and I'd be disappointed. UNTIL Elmore Leonard. Now I've read all of him and I ask my friends who the new one is and they tell me -- and I'm disappointed. Including, so far, all these Scandanavians.

Comment Bubble Tip

Hammett and Chandler and...

Bob, we think similarly in that I loved Hammett and Chandler. One of the reasons why they stand out is their themes are rich. The stories are not merely about who did it, which is still important, but the authors comment on society and on the choices individuals make.

Larsson certainly does that in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in terms of how men treat women and how the rich control the masses. Elmore Leonard has a clear voice and style. The way you've zipped through his oeuvre, I've done the same with Michael Connelly. His "A Darkness More Than Night" rates up there alongside Chandler's "A Big Sleep" with the advantage that the plot makes complete sense. (There're a few loose ends in "The Big Sleep" such as a car driving off the pier.) Larsson's style is a bit dry for me, as is the need to move into the story slowly. Perhaps it's a Scandinavian sensibility.

I've written and am polishing my first mystery, aiming for a strong theme with a plot that makes sense. It's tough. My agent doesn't quite buy the motivation of the protagonist that propels him into his journey, but I'll make that clearer. A great mystery is a huge challenge.

By the way, I just finished reading Thomas Harris's "The Silence of the Lambs." I resisted because I was such a fan of the film. The book is fabulous, even lyrical at times. The psychology in it is masterful, and there's an ongoing dialectical dialogue on what is evil. In this day-and-age, we're willing to look at what made an individual do what he did--bad childhoods or hate-crime-loving fathers. Harris doesn't come up with an answer, but the question is certainly interesting. This discussion also appears in the end of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

Comment Bubble Tip

I agree about "Lambs." Also

I agree about "Lambs." Also "Red Dragon" was terrific. (I haven't read Harris's others.) I've also liked James Ellroy's last few books a lot, though I haven't read his most recent. Connolly was one of those one of my more respected sources tried to steer me to. The plot was certainly compelling but I found the goings on too beyond belief to want to read more of him. Re: Hammitt and Chandler. They were great stylists. As is Leonard. (plus, he is one of the better writers of dialogue around. Not to mention that you can never be too sure who is going to end up killing who, I mean whom.

Comment Bubble Tip

Red Harvest, Red Dragon

Yes, a lot of people end up getting dead in Hammett's "Red Harvest." I'll take your recommendation and now try Harris's "Red Dragon."

As I polish my own novel, I'll be playing around with dialogue. Nothing like just the right line. I was reminded of "Double Indemnity" in today's Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times. That film, which Chandler helped write, has some memorable lines, such as when Walter Neff says, "I get the general idea. She was a tramp from a long line of tramps." Another one where Phyllis tells Neff, "I'm a native Californian. Born right here in Los Angeles," and Neff replies, "They say all native Californians come from Iowa."

I'm a native Californian from Minnesota.

Comment Bubble Tip

After Chandler, IMHO too

After Chandler, IMHO too many people started aping his tough guy dialogue and it became cliched.  Leonard found a fresh slant to make his stand out, I think.  For a long time, a friend and I from the same neighborhood used to congratulate ourselves on how we remained Philadelphians, not Californians.  I don't recall exactly when the switch occurred but for some time now I've been recognizing myself as, at least, a Berkeley guy.  (And as i write this, I'm back in Philly for my 50th high school reunion.)