Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Review: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" could have been a standard international potboiler. It’s about a disgraced journalist hired to investigate the mysterious death of the daughter of a wealthy dynasty decades ago, with every clue taking him deeper into a maze of intrigue and dark family secrets.
What makes this Swedish thriller exceptional is, well, the girl of the title.
It might interest you to know that its original title is "Men Who Hate Women," and it was only given its new, somewhat clunky moniker for international release.
Lisbeth Salander does indeed have a dragon tattoo. It’s so large it doesn’t so much decorate her body as entwine her in its coils. She dresses like a punk rocker, glares at the world from beneath a mane of haphazardly sawed-off tresses, and works as a professional hacker, burrowing into the lives of people targeted by her clients.
Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), an elderly tycoon, hires Lisbeth look into Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a famous investigative reporter who has just been convicted of libeling a rich businessman. He checks out clean, so Vanger brings Mikael to his remote island and relates the sad tale of his niece, Harriet.
Harriet disappeared mysteriously nearly 40 years ago during an annual meeting of the Vangers. Henrik freely admits that his clan is a nest of vipers, greedy and suspicious of one another. He suspects one of his relatives might be involved in her death, but the police inquiry turned up nothing.
For awhile, Mikael and Lisbeth’s stories run parallel. Unbeknownst to him, she’s been hacking into his computer, keeping up to date on his investigation. She gives him a tip that breaks the case wide open, and soon they’ve joined forces as they elbow through the morass of the Vangers’ twisted legacy.
Played by Noomi Rapace in a mesmerizing performance that vacillates between inner turmoil and outward explosion, Lisbeth has her own history of disturbing secrets.
In a horrifying sequence early on, she is assigned a new probation officer who uses his power to send her back to jail to perform unspeakable acts of degradation. Rather than wallowing in victimhood, though, Lisbeth acts out, displaying both her keen intelligence and a ruthlessness that allows her to give as well as she gets.
Even as Lisbeth and Mikael work the conventional end of the murder-mystery plot, it takes the back stage to their relationship – if one can call it that. The brooding, brilliant girl quickly becomes the dominant personality, despite being half Mikael’s age. She calls the shots and decides what level of intimacy they will, or will not, share.
At 2.5 hours, "Girl" is longer than it needs to be; director Niels Arden Oplev dithers on montages of characters typing furiously on the computer or poring through printed archives, searching for clues. But since the interplay between the two main characters is the far more compelling mystery, the occasionally languid pace doesn’t detract too much.
The Swedes have been on a roll lately with darkly atmospheric movies that seem inspired by American films, and in turn spawn imitations. "Let the Right One In," the chilling vampire film, is getting a U.S. remake. So is "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
While I lament the perceived necessity of an English version for audiences who won’t venture into subtitled films, I am warmed in knowing that Hollywood recognizes excellent material to rip off.
3.5 stars out of four