Friday 9 December 2016

Swedish sleuths run over the edge

PADRAIC McKIERNAN, HILARY A WHITE

Published 14/03/2010 | 05:00

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Cert 18

WITH the books of his Millennium trilogy having clocked up more than 25m sales globally, it's fair to say the work of the late Swedish crusading journalist Stieg Larsson is a literary phenomenon.

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first attempt to replicate that success on the silver screen. Reduced to brass tacks, the movie is about the "40-year-old disappearance of a 16-year-old girl" but as you might expect, inspired by the pen of such an accomplished storyteller, it's got a lot more besides.

As a journalist, Larsson wore his left-wing credentials on his sleeve and it's an agenda that features prominently in the plot of this fast-paced thriller. Corrupt capitalists, immoral state officials, and right-wing religious zealots are just some of the fall guys in the firing line.

Michael Nyquist stars as Mikael Blomkvist, the Stockholm-based journalist for whom life is about to take a turn for the tumultuous. The unjust loss of a high-profile libel case has rendered him virtually unemployable. Fortunately, an offer of work comes in from Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), a wealthy Swedish industrialist who wants Blomkvist to investigate the mystery disappearance of a beloved niece from the isolated Vanger estate decades earlier.

It isn't long before skeletons start to rattle in the Vanger family closet. But only after Blomkvist has unleashed the pocket-rocket potential of Lisbeth Salandar (Noomi Rapace), an enigmatic computer hacker with a retribution fetish.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo overstays its welcome a little, and there's a cartoonish quality to much of the resolution, but director Oplev has succeeded in translating the fiction's page-turning qualities to the big screen. Nyquist and Rapace work well together as the truth-seeking sleuths and while the violent sex scenes are borderline gratuitous, they work well in establishing this movie's dark and edgy cachet.

PMcK

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now showing

I Love You Phillip Morris

Cert: 18

Jim Carrey cartwheels back into view with this high-camp biopic of serial conman Steven Jay Russell. His is the sort of story that makes you wonder why it was never adapted to screen before.

An upstanding Christian, Russell discovered he was gay while recuperating from a car accident. In order to fund his new extravagant lifestyle, he turned to con artistry and ended up behind bars, where he fell in love with cellmate Phillip Morris. It was when Morris was released that Russell embarked on a series of ingenious escapes in order to be reunited with him.

This is not quite the respectable actorly Carrey of The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but it's close. The limbs and face are still composed of some unknown elastic compound, but his mastery of physical comedy -- always his strongest card -- is tempered by a commitment to the realities of his character's situation. Put simply, he is superbly cast as a slimy, if confused, opportunist and architect of his ultimate downfall.

In one of the more unlikely on-screen duos in recent memory, Carrey is paired up with the boyish-looking Ewan McGregor, who plays the titular love interest. Both actors are going through a dry patch in the credibility stakes, and while this will serve to remind us of Carrey's talent and range, McGregor's character is something of a harmless prop. But if that was essentially Morris's role in the tale, then it is conveyed competently.

There's fits and giggles aplenty, and a dark humour that will draw comparisons to the Coen brothers, but this is not for the faint-hearted. The original cut had difficulty securing distribution due to its graphic homosexual content -- something, it seems, Hollywood is not quite ready for. This new edit could still test conservative audiences.

HAW

I Love You Phillip Morris is now showing

Shutter Island

Cert 15A

THERE'S something appropriate about the fact that the production designer on Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island goes by the name of Dante; it's easy to imagine his Divine Comedy namesake being impressed with the circle-of-hell backdrop to this epic offering.

Starring Scorsese stalwart Leonardo DiCaprio, this artful noir thriller is set in 1954 on a remote, Alcatraz-style offshore asylum along the Massachusetts coast. DiCaprio takes the part of Teddy Daniels, a hard-boiled federal marshal assigned to the island, to investigate the disappearance of a notorious murderess.

A sense of foreboding is immediately discernible. A storm is forecast, meaning access to the island is likely to be lost, the heavily armed guards are obviously on edge, while the high-security prisoners won't be found lacking when it comes to setting your spine to chill mode.

If that wasn't enough, Daniels believes the institution's chief psychiatrist Dr Cawley, a suitably sinister Ben Kingsley, is using the island's lighthouse as a front for conducting Nazi-style surgical experiments on the unfortunate inmates.

As you might expect from Scorsese, there is much about this movie that is masterful. DiCaprio is immense in the central role and brings a touching poignancy to a performance that demands great emotional range while the soundtrack, compiled by Robbie Robertson, perfectly complements the mood, especially during the closing credits.

Shutter Island works brilliantly as a thriller in its own right, but the movie's concluding twist succeeds in adding a profound depth to proceedings. The dark and disturbing subject may not be to everyone's taste but students of the human condition won't find this compelling piece so much up their street as knocking on their front door.

PMcK

Shutter Island is now showing

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