Sunday, 22 April 2012

Man Som Hatar Kvinnor

The Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's 2005 novel is an interesting beast.  As a general rule, I tend to think script quality is a little undervalued in general discussions of film - though I accept this is almost certainly a function of my own interest in and love of writing, rather than a position that could withstand much scrutiny from anyone who knows what they're talking about.

Either way, if we accept for the sake of argument that my position has any merit, this film would still stand as a definite counter-example.  Niels Arden Oplev has worked small miracles making something deeply affecting out of what is basically a whodunnit that's been dressed up not with clever twists, but with a massive amount of hyperbolic misogyny.  The fact that Larsson was working through his own guilt over failing to help a teenage girl he saw being raped explains this to a point, but the repeated displays and references to rape and lustful murders starts off feeling unnecessary and poorly-judged and ends up just deadening through eye-rolling repetition.  Needless to say, the reaction to learning a character has been sexually abused by their father should not lead to the response "Christ, her too?".

(All that said, of course, the original title of both novel and film translates literally as "Men who Hate Women", so if nothing else, I can't claim the story was mis-sold.)

In Oplev's hands, though, the story gains an awful lot of style, and generates a strange sense of uneasiness through very clever use of visuals.  The plot centres around an attempt to solve a murder from almost forty years ago, and relies heavily on attempts to discover information through savvy use of multiple photographs taken just before the crime.  Oplev uses this idea quite masterfully, employing overlays, close-ups and a sort of flickbook effect to bring into focus (no pun intended, mostly) a story four decades old.  The gradual build-up of evidence and the repeated returns to blurry faces of the victim and her assumed killer is genuinely chilling in a manner reminiscent of nothing so much as the psychic flashbacks in the original Japanese adaptation of The Ring, which is high praise indeed.  I've mentioned before on this blog that strange way that being one step removed from terror can be all the more scary, and Oplev uses that to maximum advantage.  Indeed, one could almost say that this is a thriller somehow assembled from two disparate horror films - one based firmly in psychology, the other a deeply unpleasant revenge story, that meet in the middle through a shared theme of, yes, men who hate women.

Were I Oplev, I might have rewritten some of the early scenes to make them less staggeringly tasteless - though The Other Half tells me that this would cause problems for adapting the second two novels.  Still, between his efforts and two solid leads (Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, playing a character who according to the books is a real ladies' man but here looks like Alan Tudyk after the four worst years of his life), a fairly unremarkable story has been forged into a distinctly above average film.


Gooder said...

Whilst I take the point on screenwriting in general as fair (it can get overlooked) I'd suggest that the film here works so well because of other factors.

The screenplay if fairly tight, well contructed and does what it needs to but I don't think really does anything extraoridnary.

What makes the film work so well is the really strong sense of time and place created - particularly in regard the small town home & island of the family. In fact it's one of the most 'real' feeling places in a film in a long time if you understand what I mean.

It feels cold, it feels sad.

Anyway I've only seen the theatrical version and am quite interested to check out the mini-series cut (of all three stories) that were aired on Swedish television.

And those early scenes are essential to both helping to explain Lisbeth as well as show what drives her.

SpaceSquid said...

I'd agree that one couldn't simply remove those scenes and not replace them with anything. I'm far from convinced that one couldn't set Lisbeth up any other way.

The "coldness" of the film is indeed a very important part of the atmosphere the frozen beauty of the island is very effective, and at the risk of overreaching, kind of works in conjunction with all the time spent looking at a woman who's become frozen in time, in a sense.