The Owl, The Sparrow, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the Movie, that is…)

June 15, 2010

The afternoon before leaving Prince Edward Island for my annual Nashville sojourn, I caught wind of a screening of a movie I had been wanting to see, a Vietnamese flick called The Owl and the Sparrow. The story chronicles the adventures of a charming ten-year-old runaway in modern-day Saigon, and her attempts at matchmaking involving a lonely airline stewardess and a hopelessly romantic zookeeper. I checked the newspaper to find out the showtimes, and was surprised and delighted to find that its companion feature was a cinema adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a movie whose very existence had thus far eluded me. Needless to say, I was hooked, and later that evening I tuned in to my first double feature in recent memory, a four-and-a-half hour marathon of cushy red velour theater seating, popcorn, Dasani, and the silver screen.

The Owl and the Sparrow was all I had hoped for: affecting, lushly photographed, poignant, yet neatly avoiding the treacly sentimentality into which it could have easily slipped in less capable hands. All in all, a feel-good movie that didn’t make one feel embarrassed for feeling good.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, playing second, made for a jarring counterpoint, to say the least. However visceral and violent the book was (which is to say, quite a bit), the movie amplified by half again. Anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander, gothically edgy in the book, is played by veteran Swedish actress Noomi Rapace. Taller and less Lolita-esque than the Salander of the book, Rapace nonetheless delivers a riveting performance, by turns vicious and vulnerable. Second lead Michael Nyqvist likely had little difficulty remembering his character’s name, Mikael Blomqvist.  Still smarting from a botched expose on a notorious industrialist, Blomqvist has been hired to unearth clues to the disappearance of a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl, a case that originally made headlines some forty years before.

There are more than enough villains for an entire series of novels, played gleefully by Swedish character actors Peter Andersson, Peter Haber, and Gosta Bredefeldt, to name but a few. The balance of the supporting cast is excellent as well, a skilled ensemble ably suited to the rigors of adapting the well loved series into an equally compelling cinema troika.

Although all three books have now been made into movies, playing to appreciative audiences across the European continent, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first to hit our shores. It is a deeply disturbing movie, and definitely not for the faint of heart, but I predict that it will be as major a critical success on this side of the pond as it has proved in Europe. Available starting July 6th; get your order in early!