Buddy movies of a new kind

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” (Image courtesy Music Box Films.)

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Repo Men” will pull in very different audiences, yet they share one thing: a story based on two people who have to deal with the moral challenges of their work together.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s hugely successful novel, the first in the Millenium trilogy. It’s the story of a disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomquist who sets out to solve a 40 year old mystery, the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a 16-year-old member of a powerful family of industrialists. He’s hired by Harriet’s uncle who believes one of his close relatives killed the girl. Blomquist’s efforts attract the attention of Lisbeth Salander, she of the tattoo, who is a brilliant but eccentric investigator. She is so successful because she is a hacker who has no qualms about diving into other people’s hard drives. Salander is perhaps the most anticipated character in Scandinavia, and certainly amongst fans of the books.

“Repo Men” is a very bloody futuristic tale of a world where medicine can provide replacements for just about every human body part. That’s the good news. The bad news is they are expensive devices, so expensive in fact that most people have to get them on a long term payment plan. If you don’t pay, then the company sends the Repo Men to take back its property. Few patients survive the repossession. Jude Law plays Remy, a repo man who loves his work. His partner Jake (Forest Whitaker) loves what he does even more, even taking on extra repos on the weekend, much to the disgust of Remy’s wife.

Things go well until Remy has an accident and wakes up with an artificial heart in his chest. He’s suddenly on the other side of the fence, and sees things very differently as he struggles to pay his bills. In time he has to start worrying about whether Jake will hew to his mantra of ‘a job is a job.’

The plot of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is known to many of the people who will see the film, and “Repo Men” plays out in relatively predictable ways. What makes them interesting is the relationship between the two central characters. In “Tattoo” Michael Nyquist and Noomi Rapace make for a compelling couple, in part because Rapace is wonderful at maintaining her character’s glowering distance from Blomquist, even as they become physically entangled. The film explores themes of violence against women, and the ethics of modern journalism, and where to draw the line in dealing with the first and preserving the second.

Law and Whitaker also are the most compelling thing in their film, adding levity to what might be seen as a heavy-handed commentary on healthcare funding. They face their own moral dilemmas too, and if you can stomach the blood, there’s some food for thought here too.

It’ll never happen, but one has to wonder about how much fun it would be to have a post-screening discussion on morality, and whether ends justify the means, involving audience members from both of these movies.

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