It was probably Tuesday or Wednesday of last week when I first started checking for the weekend's new movie releases. Generally, I have an idea of what big releases are pending, but I check to see if there are any smaller titles coming to town to check out —indies, foreign titles, documentaries, anything out of the mainstream. I am not guaranteed to see them, but better to be aware in case I want to see them, right? One title jumped out at me while checking the schedules. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo caught my eye — the title is intriguing, no?
I recall that Roger Ebert had reviewed it recently. I had not read the review, but I remember him saying to see it and not wait for a Hollywood remake (which already seems to be slated for a release in 2012). I took a quick look at the description and then wrestled for a couple of days with whether I wanted to make the hour drive to see it. The internal debate continued at work when co-workers asked what I was going to see as they are wont to do. I mentioned the title and their stare glazed over as I explained it was a two and a half hour thriller from Sweden. Subtitled? Yes, subtitled. A grimace followed as they continued on with their work. Needless to say, I made the trip and I am glad I did. The movie proved to be well worth the trip.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was released in its native country under the title Millennium: Part 1 – Men Who Hate Women. It turns out it is the first part of a trilogy based on novels by Stieg Larsson who sadly died prior to the release of any of the novels much less the films. Of course, I did not know this was a series until after the fact. The film plays out perfectly well on its own. However, I am interested in seeing further development of these characters, as they are complex protagonists who exist in this film whose actual plot is decidedly less complex, although no less interesting.
I walked into the film rather unsure of what to expect. I knew the basic setup was that a rich man hires a disgraced journalist and computer hacker to investigate the disappearance of his niece 40 years prior when she was just 16 years old. The uncle is convinced it was murder committed by a family member. The investigation takes them into the family's dark history that some would rather see keep secret.
I walked out of the film wondering just how Hollywood was going to mess it up. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a masterful thriller that is shocking, engrossing, captivating, and will have you on the edge of your seat for two and a half hours. Besides the length, which I am sure will be much too long for a non-epic/superhero film, there is some shocking violence and sexual content that serves a purpose but will definitely be deemed too much by a Hollywood studio and censor board to allow into a wide-release film. With those big things out of the way, I wonder what little things will be affected by adaptation. I will rest easy knowing the original film exists.
The film opens by introducing us to the players. Ou first introduction is with Henrik Vanger, the uncle who mourns the loss of his niece, Harriet, every day. He is played by Sven-Bertil Taube, an older gentleman whose deeply lined face reveals the sadness he has lived with every day for forty years. He does not have a big role in the film, but his desires are a driving force leading to a surprisingly powerful emotional payoff.
Our co-lead is Mikael Blomkvist, played by Michael Nyqvist. He is a disgraced journalist journalist brought onto the case with the promise of a big payday and the fact he has nothing else to do at the moment and chooses to take the assignment, moving into a cottage on the Vanger property in the process. He strikes me as a character straight out of an old school noir film, rakish and determined to uncover the truth.
The other half of our lead duo is really, in my mind, the real star of the film. Lisbeth Salander, played by Noomi Rapace, is a brilliant computer hacker with a dark past and questionable present. She clearly has unresolved issues with her past; something damaged her, giving her a very black and white view of right and wrong. She is initially hired to investigate Blomkvst prior to his hiring. After the fact she continues to track him, believing the reason for his disgrace was a setup. This leads her to find the documents relating to the disappearance, drawing her in to the mystery.
Together they uncover a series of murdered women leading up to Harriet's disappearance, not to mention a whole collection of creepy relatives, Nazi sympathizers, and potential murder suspects. How does it all tie back to Harriet? I'm not telling!
To tell the plot is to give away the secrets, to describe what happens in even a roundabout manner risks giving you the pieces to put it together too soon. Let me say that the film has a few mysteries going on. The primary thread is not terribly complex, but it will keep you guessing until the final moments. The other mysteries center on our characters and are even more interesting… well, one of them in particular. Lisbeth herself is a walking mystery, a riddle that is difficult to pierce. She will only be known on her terms.
The movie goes by so fast you scarcely notice the long runtime. It is fascinating as it is not a terribly fast-paced film. There are explosions of shocking violence and sexual abuse (which never falls into exploitation territory) that effectively punctuate the mystery they are investigating and highlight our characters' personal damages. It is all gorgeously shot and exquisitely paced. This will hold your attention until the final frame.
In all seriousness, Noomi Rapace delivers an eye-opening performance. She completely sells the role with a brave performance that is utterly captivating. Lisbeth Salander is seriously damaged from a defining moment in her past, revealed all in good time. She is strong, yet vulnerable; reserved yet very forthright. It is a character that really carries this film through all of its turns, and this is one of the best performances I have seen this year.
It is interesting that the one film I could think of to compare it to is Zodiac, David Fincher's true-crime procedural. This has a lot in common with it, just as it has nothing in common with it. Come to find out that Fincher is the director attached to the remake of this film. If there is a director who could possibly bring it to life in America, he may be able to do it.
Bottom line. I cannot believe I considered not going to see this. That would have been a crime. Writing, acting, directing are all top notch. This is one of those must see films that has a lot going on in it. The characters are as interesting as the mystery. Do yourself a favor and see this movie.