The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo injects its pulpy, high-tech noir with references to Swedish/Nazi collaborators and secret societies. If you dig a well-executed suspense thriller, this movie plays like a master's guide on how it's done.
Niels Arden Oplev's adaptation of the first book of Stieg Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy", The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a crackin' thriller in which Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a recently disgraced journalist, and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a lesbian hacker with a history of violent mental episodes, are hired by the patriarch of the rich and elusive Vanger clan. Uncle Vanger wants them to find out what happened to Harriet Vanger, his niece and favorite relative who disappeared from the family's island some forty years prior. In the course of their investigation they discover a labyrinthine conspiracy involving government cover-ups, a series of unsolved murders, brutal rape and Nazis.
Already a major hit in its native Sweden and across Europe ("The Girl Who Played with Fire", the second film, has already been released overseas), this first film is essentially a tight little mystery thriller with a dark-as-pitch underbelly and top-shelf production values. At first glance it may, at least to American audiences, resemble little more than a well-done mystery akin to the sorts of whodunits Hollywood has been putting out consistently since before World War II; there's a dash of Hitchcock here, a bit of "The Silence of the Lambs" there. But the sum of its parts is still both compelling and distinctly European, and results in a tale that takes its time, establishing both its characters and the plot with a welcome and refreshing level of patience and restraint.
It's probably also worth noting that the overseas reception to this film (and the resulting hype), may perplex some U.S. audiences who can appreciate its surface virtues but not really relate to some of the core political undercurrents.
Blomkvist and Salander spend the entire first act in separate worlds, their stories smoothly converging in a manner that feels neither contrived nor hackneyed. Blomkvist is an idealist, the publisher of Millenium, the magazine after which the literary trilogy is named. Less a square-jawed hero than a slightly-clumsy bookworm, Blomkvist dared to try and expose a major corporation as corrupt but got in over his head, and has only a few weeks to solve Vanger's case before he's sent to prison for libel.
Salander is a freelance investigator and hacker who tracks down dirt on people of interest for whomever pays the most, and Blomkvist is her most recent target. She's also been bouncing around from one sponsor to the next, as she's on probation for a number of violent altercations, and the most recent sponsor is a real scumbag who threatens to ruin her run of good behavior unless she submits to his harsh sexual fantasies. A key scene involves one of the roughest rapes I've seen committed to celluloid, but what happens after is not only oddly empowering, but also shines further light on an increasingly complex character.
The secret weapon here is, of course, Salander, easily one of the most fascinating characters to emerge in recent cinema, and Rapace's portrayal is pitch perfect. A tattoo-covered, Mac-using, motorcycle-riding Tank Girl by way of Neo (with a little bit of wounded Jodie Foster thrown in), every moment Salander is onscreen the movie just pumps. She's neither a tragic victim nor an excessively brooding shoegazer, and Rapace sells her untraditional sexual psychology, as well as her proficiency with computers and the clues of the case, with alternating degrees of subtlety and intensity. She almost seems like the sort of character we're more likely to see in some cyberpunk action film, but in "Girl" feels entirely real. Salander isn't interested in our sympathy, but earns it anyway, and by film's end we're rooting for her despite the fact that she's still a little scary. Nyqvist plays Blomkvist like he knows exactly who wears the pants in their weird partnership, and his interest in her (both romantic and intellectual) is tempered with a kind of "aw shucks" awe. Together they make one of the best screen pairings in recent memory.
While the pacing may not be everybody's cup of tea (this is less a sensationalist action-thriller than a creepy procedural), "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is still an easy one to recommend thanks to its characters and atmosphere. There's just something hard to resist about a punk Sherlock Holmes, you know? This one should get a stateside limited release sometime this year, and the word is that a U.S. remake is in development, but unless you just can't handle dubbing or subtitles, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Rating: 8 out of 10
This post by rochefort appeared originally on Quiet Earth.