The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

This review was originally written and published in the summer of 2010 before I knew “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was a book and before it was an international phenomenon as well as before I knew any casting news on the American version.

Before I had even seen “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” I had heard news about its announced American remake directed by David Fincher. I hope that film is not a direct remake, as this Swedish film is a dark, disturbing, complex and cerebral thriller with a hard R-rating. After seeing it, I’m less excited for the American version and more so for the two sequels due out in the same calendar year.

This is a rare thriller that does as much for its story as it does for its characters. It has an intricate plot about a journalist named Mikael Blomkvich (Michael Nyqvist) being framed for forging evidence for an article. He’s got six months until his sentence, and in that time, businessman Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) has hired him to pick up the pieces of a murder/disappearance case that’s 40 years old. His niece Harriet was murdered by one of the members of the Vanger family, and after some digging, Mikael suspects three brothers that were Nazi supporters.

As he investigates the murder, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a goth girl and the best computer hacker in Sweden, is investigating him to find proof that he really forged the evidence. She says Mikael’s clean, but she continues following him and helps him out with the murder case. Lisbeth’s a recluse with a mysterious past, a criminal and psychiatric record, and she’s a feminist with lesbian urges.

Throughout the course of the film, we see her endure some serious pain and torture, but the other side of the coin is her ability to dish it out as well. The complexity of her character lies in her questionable morals and ethics, which teeter the line between decency and justice.

Rapace gives a brilliant performance as the hacker. She’s brooding and sinister without playing over the top or signaling her emotions. Rapace contains herself and reveals only so much about her character. Although Lisbeth is by far the most interesting character, she is intentionally underdeveloped. The coy, paltry and odd details that may suggest a personal vendetta, a psychological trauma or even a mental illness are all intricate parts in the machine that turns the wheels of this already riveting thriller.

What’s admirable about the way in which this mystery is solved is in its real-world rooted tendencies. The heroes’ Mac computers all have the familiar OS X interface, and the clues come together in perfect clarity and believability as they assemble their information in iPhoto, Mail and Photoshop. Some of the ways in which we see steady photos slowly flutter before our eyes are an elegant storytelling method that could only be achieved in a digital age.

The violence and action too are driven by the realm of possibility. Lisbeth is a young woman, small, thin, but sharp. Yet she never goes overboard in acrobatics, strength, etc. She is a real character, and the same can be said about Mikael, a middle-aged hero only seen in intelligent films like this.

The point at which reality is stretched is a flaw of Hollywood expectations. There are several gratuitous torture and rape scenes in the film that transcend any limitations or requirements to impose a level of drama or understanding of the situation, but here they are brought to the forefront. Aside from being masterfully mood setting and atmospheric in their gripping quality, I believe the necessity to include so many violent acts serves as a challenge to the feminist leanings of Lisbeth. It adds another layer of depth to Rapace’s character, and it’s a logical conclusion, as the Swedish title of the film is actually “Men who Hate Women.”

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a powerful, unique film with strong characters and a tougher setting than most movies today. It has set high standards for the next two films to be released Stateside in a matter of months, the best-selling Swedish novels if I decide to read them, and for any actress who thinks she can pull off as convincing a Lisbeth as Rapace does.

Although, Viggo Mortensen would make a great Mikael.

4 stars

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