Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- An Exceptional Neo-Noir With Complex Characters and a Mesmerizing Plot

There have been some surprising Swedish films to be released in the past couple of years, the best in recent memory being the vampire horror flick Let the Right One In which is getting the Hollywood remake treatment at an incredibly fast pace. Another film that has already been announced to be remade by the Hollywood bandits is the first screen adaptation of the Millennium Trilogy entitled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which were written by the late Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson. In proper translation it is actually called “Men Who Hate Women,” and the film certainly has this theme throughout the horrific, gritty, and twisty plot that is intensely intriguing as it is equally shocking. This complex neo-Noir ventures into multiple areas that would be potent enough topics for many films let alone one, yet every detail here is balanced incredibly well with Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev at the helm. There is nothing better than a mystery film that engages the mind with clues and details allowing any audience member to be their own detective. However, this goes beyond the usual private investigator noir film and attempts to contemplate the cycle of violence, the effects of sexual abuse, and the available resources that allows one to continue horrific crimes. One could make multiple genre influences in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by the religious references much like David Fincher’s Seven or even the gritty rape sequence that reminds those who are familiar with Sam Peckinpah of Straw Dogs. Ultimately, though, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as much a unique thriller as it is its own established film and it’s one of gripping mystery, intense discovery, brilliantly portrayed characters, and shocking realization.

As mysteries go there needs to be a certain amount of fact left in the dark, especially here in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo due to its protagonist initially not having a clue as to what is actually going on. Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist who has just been successfully sued for libel by a wealthy business tycoon after all the sources for the story dropped out leaving Blomkvist out to dry. Blomkvist is a journalist with integrity who is dedicated and when put in the right direction has ample passion for a story that he’s willing to explore. Now facing prison in 6 months time Blomkvist is hired by another wealthy business man named Henrik Vanger who wants his journalistic expertise to solve a murder mystery that is 40 years old. While the Vanger family has an unflattering history of having three family members part of the National Socialists in Sweden, it appears that there is no explanation to the disappearance of Harriet who was 16 years old at the time. Henrik expects no one yet everyone in the family who all appear to have dark secrets and deep seated hatred towards each other. Blomkvist, due to intrigue and later obsession, begins to investigate the case slowly finding clues that the police weren’t able to figure out. However, once he hits a road block in the case dealing with strange names and numbers, a computer hacker named Lisbeth gets involved due to her obsession of following Blomkvist’s libel case. Lisbeth is a rebellious girl and has a history of psychological problems and is sexually blackmailed and abused by her probation officer. This is a complex character that experiments in sexuality, has a resistance to intimacy, a violent past, yet also has extreme cleverness and strength. These two unlikely investigative partners tread the murky waters of this 40 year long mystery that remains as detailed and shocking as recent thrillers such as Oldboy and The Usual Suspects.

What’s so shocking about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is its dedication to realism utilizing gritty images and unsettling material. The film is a shining example, among countless others, that Asian and European cinema don’t have the cultural inhibition of portraying honestly horrific scenarios as they can actually happen. This can be attributed to the incredibly uncomfortable rape scene, where Lisbeth is forced into bondage by her probation officer making the most uncomfortable forced sex scene since Straw Dogs and Irreversible. This scene, amongst many others, reinforces the underlining statement of the novel as well as the film about violence towards women. While the film isn’t exactly a fully accurate adaptation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t fall short of expected quality. There is a well developed core to this satisfying thriller that is only aided more by all of the technicalities such as Eric Kress’ dazzling and mesmerizing cinematography. Considering that the substance of the script could have gotten confusing or lost amidst the highly complex characters and intricate plot developments, Niels Arden Oplev makes sure all of the pieces fall into place when they need to make sense. As thrillers go this is one of those rare gems that introduce many puzzles allowing the audience to be completely dependent on the presentation, where they are also willfully engaged.

It’s always helpful when there is good acting to compliment the grand established character especially when the plot demands protagonists we have to be willing to follow. Michael Nyqvist as the journalist Mikael Blomkvist is remarkably intense in his role while remaining relatable and sympathetic as we learn more about his framed crime and vulnerable disposition. His obsession with the mystery becomes our obsession because a puzzle which seems to have no answer has to be attempted. Then there is Noomi Rapace who plays the exceptionally complex Lisbeth. Rapace embodies this character, rarely revealing her fears putting on a façade that begins to crumble as her feelings begin to build for Mikael. Mikael as the semi-old fashioned journalist using older methods of investigative reporting combined with Lisbeth’s modern hacker mentality makes for an interesting team to watch. The characters become more sympathetic or more haunting as the details of the plot are revealed making for an extremely rare film that exposes character as details of the story are exposed.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has all of the right elements, great acting that reveals exceptional character, mesmerizing cinematography that utilizes gritty images and honest scenarios, and a highly complex plot that has enough twists and turns to intrigue any modern or art house movie attendee. European cinema doesn’t often have films that can rival American thrillers but the last decade or so the American thriller has gotten too formulaic and predictable. This refreshing film found an intriguing source to be adapted that was popular and original, which usually transcends into quality cinema. Hollywood isn’t taking notes from this film in the long run about finding and creating an original story by just remaking it. Instead we should learn to embrace new talent and books that haven’t been adapted. What is a guarantee here is that Swedish film is certainly on the rise of quality in the world of cinema and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s unforgettable experience will be attributed to the new talent of Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev.

Grade: A-

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