Bring Out the Gimp

Musings on pop culture by freelance journalist Shawn Conner

Movies watched – Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Noomi Rapace in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Noomi Rapace in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

In what may or may not become a regular feature on the blog, I’ll be doing capsule reviews of my movie-watching week, including when it was watched and its source (all movies watched at home unless otherwise noted). This week’s post features two recent films and a French new wave classic, all of which could loosely be filed under “crime thrillers.”

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (watched on Movie Channel, Sunday night) – Am I the only one who thought Stieg Larsson‘s thriller upon which this movie is based is mediocre at best?

Incomprehensibly, Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels have moved millions of copies – it’s nearly impossible to walk through an airport or around a hotel pool without seeing someone reading one of these doorstops.

This 2009 movie, and its two sequels, have been similarly well-received internationally; to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, an American remake, too be directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara as the title character, is apparently in production.

Rooney Mara

Rooney Mara

I approached this adaptation of the trilogy’s first installment with trepidation, although I recall thinking as I skimmed the three-quarters of the book that had nothing to do with story or character, that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo might make an okay movie.

And indeed, director Niels Arden Oplev‘s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo gets the job done. Noomi Rapace as computer hacker Lisbeth Salander is properly scary-looking and antisocial, and the story has just enough moving parts to staying interesting for most of its two-and-a-half hour running length. (Take out the Salander character and you’re left with a pretty dull, predictable standard thriller plot.)

Still, after it was over I felt like I’d thrown my Sunday night away on something I’d already wasted too much time on.

Animal Kingdom (illegal download, Tuesday night) –  I first became aware of this Australian crime thriller from seeing it on Quentin Tarantino‘s list of his favourite 2010 movies. Written and directed by David Michod, Animal Kingdom is smart, subtle and (mostly) unpredictable – everything The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo isn’t (not that it tries).

Animal Kingdom is actually less a thriller than a character study, actually – in this case, of a crime family ruled by matriarch Janine “Smurf” Cody – in the suburbs of Melbourne, but with enough genre elements, such as sudden bursts of violence and one really questionable plot wist, to qualify.

Anyway, the movie has enough surprises and new wrinkles on an old formula to prove there’s life in the gangster film yet.

Shoot the Piano Player (Vancouver Public Library, Criterion DVD, Friday night) – A 1960 Francois Truffaut film starring Charles Aznavour and Marie Dubois, Shoot the Piano Player is not unlike Jean-Luc Godard‘s Breathless (also 1960) in its determination to fuck with genre cliches.

Charles Aznavour and Marie Dubois in Shoot the Piano Player.

Charles Aznavour and Marie Dubois in Shoot the Piano Player.

In this case the genre is, again, the gangster film: Aznavour plays a concert hall-level pianist with a tragic (and not very believable) backstory reduced to playing in a French bistro. His brother gets mixed up with two bad guys (description: “one in a hat, one in a cap”) which leads to one of the most unsuspenseful chases in the history of movie chases.

But that’s the fun and charm of Shoot the Piano Player – Truffaut assembles and mixes up all the (American) crime thriller elements, then tosses them into something weird and French. Also, it’s only 81 minutes.

What isn’t fun or charming is Truffaut. In a clip of an interview about the movie for French television that’s included on the extras disc, the  director comes across as condescending, arrogant and just generally, like a dude with a baguette up his ass. After watching the clip, I liked the movie a little less.

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