The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Writing reviews for fantastic movies is simple.  Terrible movies don’t put up much of a fight, either.  It’s the lukewarm movie that leaves me scratching my head and wondering where to start.  Tattoo is a character-driven whodunit that channels memories of Agatha Christie novels and Murder She Wrote episodes.  Tattoo, however, has attitude; the eponymous “girl with the dragon tattoo” sports more piercings than a pincushion.  Angela Lansbury this ain’t.  The attitude also comes across in the rating, or lack thereof.  If Tattoo had been rated, it would have garnered at least a hard R.  Some really violent and vile acts are depicted on-screen, so consider yourself warned (again).

At a runtime of 152 minutes, Tattoo is pee-your-pants long.  But the length doesn’t translate to slow pacing.  On the contrary, Tattoo needs the time to tell an involving story, and the sheer fact that it wasn’t edited down constitutes a significant strength.  Books often tell stories that simply cannot be reduced to 100 minutes while retaining coherence, but sadly, studios often bully directors into doing precisely this under the pretext that audiences won’t pay attention to a long movie.  So it’s refreshing to see a drama-tinged mystery given ample room to nurture a handful of plot threads and build some decent suspense.

Tattoo has the same strengths and weaknesses as your typical Christie novel; the questions are more interesting than the answers.  This isn’t a particularly gargantuan complaint.  Rare is the mystery where the pay-off lives up to the suspense, but Tattoo is not the exception.  That said,  Tattoo offers interesting twists and turns along the way.  I’ve seen boatloads of mediocre thrillers, and Tattoo’s plot is certainly a cut above.  The movie serves up a couple of interesting characters, but ultimately betrays them with a denouement that simply feels too neat.  I’m not sure whether this is a fault of the book or a change for the sake of the movie, but it doesn’t work, regardless.

If I have to make one single complaint about Tattoo, the score probably takes the cake.  Jacob Groth’s score is moody enough but shows absolutely no restraint.  Did a character just say something mildly interesting?  Quick! Let’s hear something suspenseful!  Did another character respond?  Quick! Play the horns again!  If Groth had pulled a few punches, the ones he landed – during truly important events –  would have counted for more.

I can’t say I’m familiar with anybody from Tattoo’s all-Swedish cast.  The important performances, however, successfully navigate an emotionally demanding script.  The cinematography often relies on close-up face shots to display subtle expressions, and these moments form the link between the actors and the audience.  Hell, I even teared up at one point, and that doesn’t happen if the cast isn’t creating something authentic.

The direction and cinematography, however, suffer from the same fault that plagues the score: a lack of restraint and finesse.  I recently praised The Square for its gentle, intelligent use of the camera to tell a story.  Tattoo, on the other hand, beats the audience over the head with the camera.  It’s not an issue most of the time, but occasionally I found myself flustered by the repetition of a particular shot.

The Round-Up
I'm inclined to give Tattoo a decent score because it weaves a tangled mystery with at least one memorable character. Some rough edges don't stop Tattoo from being an enjoyable antidote to a dark and rainy afternoon- warts, tattoos, piercings, and all.
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