I think people who frequent foreign and independent films do so because they are looking for something different and unusual, something to challenge them, make them think, something to encourage discussion. Let's face it. Most of the studio films released can barely elicit more than a quick "It was okay". Or perhaps a terse "It sucked".
I try to go to a fair number of these every year for these very reasons. Because I love to see films so much, I get sucked in by the hype of the big budget Hollywood films on a regular basis. And I frequently get disappointed. I need Foreign and independent films to provide an antidote to the cookie cutter fare usually perpetrated by the studios.
But because American films are so popular worldwide, foreign filmmakers are struggling to find a market for their works, even in their own countries. The solution? Many are making their films more 'American'. Recently, the French thriller "Tell No One", based on an American bestseller, could easily have been the latest Michael Douglas thriller. In fact, I would be surprised if an American remake is not in the works. I think the film only worked as well as it did because the actors are French and spoke their native language throughout, somehow making it seem more intelligent. But the film is marred by an overly expository ending in which the guilty party explains at length how they committed the crime because there is basically no other way for us to know this happened. The film never gives us the clues we need to connect the dots.
Now, the Swedish thriller "The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo", based on the international bestseller is a similar, better and more unusual film than "Tell No One".
Mikael Blomkvist (Mikael Nykvist) is a disgraced journalist; his latest investigative target, a questionable billionaire has sued for liable and won, meaning Mikael must leave the magazine he started in order to save it. To occupy his time, he answers a query from a reclusive old man, Martin Vanger (Peter Haber), once a captain of industry, heading the company his family owned and operated, who now lives more or less as a recluse. Martin wants Mikael to find his niece, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances almost forty years ago. Mikael is reluctant, but a few mysterious photographs serve to pique his interest and he agrees to help.
Lisabeth Salander (Noomi Repace) is a street-wise young woman very adept at computer hacking and finding people. She works at a detective agency finding people, making inquiries into their past, digging up dirt. Her inquiries into Mikael lead him to find out about her and he asks her to help him in his inquiries. She must be good to get past all of the firewalls protecting his information. She realizes this may be an opportunity to leave her abusive and violent past behind and agrees to help.
As Mikael and Lisabeth begin their investigations, they quickly realize there may be more unexplained mysterious deaths connected and the scope of the investigation increases, becoming more dangerous.
Before and during their investigations, they meet some people who are truly frightening. The film doesn't shy away from showing why these people are frightening (especially to Lisabeth) and these moments are a little hard to watch. But these same moments are also one of the aspects that set this film apart. An American film would never depict such brutality, could never depict such brutality and receive a wide release. Don't get me wrong. I think the brutality is necessary to the story, necessary to help us understand the type of character Lisabeth is. If it were simply gratuitous and didn't serve the story, "Dragon" would be a different beast altogether. But because it is a part of the story, it is necessary to experience these moments. Without it, the film would seem hollow and very artificial.
All of this is good and all of this adds up to precisely what makes independent and foreign films so interesting to me, so vital a part of my movie going regimen.
My problem with "Dragon Tattoo" comes in the last few moments. Much like a bad American thriller, or a television show, the identity of the people responsible is revealed through lengthy discourse from the guilty party themselves. They tell a story revealing all, who, what, when, where, how. And much of it doesn't make sense or add up because we simply aren't given the details. Any details we are given are so buried within the confusing and multi-layered narrative it almost seems like this dialogue is needed to help tie up the loose ends.
When writers resort to this method of discourse, it just seems sloppy. If you are writing the film, you have the license to do whatever you want. Make it believable enough and the reader (and watcher) will go with you. I can't comment on whether the book follows this same road because I haven't read it. Given the success of the book, I have to think the screenwriters who needed to streamline the story a bit did this. They cut out some scenes and as a result had to 'tie everything' up in the end.
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is interesting and unusual enough to satisfy the serious cinephile's foreign film bug. I just wish they had been able to come up with a better, more unusual way, tying up the story's loose ends, providing these same viewers with a truly memorable ending. As it stands, it is little better than the ending of an episode of "Murder She Wrote".
The remaining two books in the trilogy have already been made into films in Sweden. An American remake is already in the works from director David Fincher ("Seven", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"). If anyone is able to retain the violent, unusual nature of the story, Fincher seems a good choice. Brad Pitt is a strong candidate for the male lead. It will be interesting to see how this strange hybrid foreign film translates to an American made film.