Sunday, April 18, 2010

"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (2010)

Lisbeth Salander, played expertly by Noomi Rapace, is a 24-year-old genius computer hacker whose dragon tattoo covering the expanse of her back is actually the least interesting aspect of her. Her body is thin and covered with various other tattoos and piercings. She is muscular and curiously bisexual. She has short, jet black hair and dresses in all black, punk-like clothing with tight jeans and thick boots. She is also damaged from a violent and abusive background and seeks resolve from participating in the uncovering of a 40-year-old mystery rooted in bizarre violence against women. She is hard-hitting yet sympathetic, a conundrum and an endlessly compelling one. Watching Rapace's breakout performance here reminded me of watching Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds" where nobody knows about this actor until they hit the masses with something like this. It's truly a gift watching her be the centerpiece of the Swedish film, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which will, in due time, become its own phenomenon.

The movie is based on the novel written by the Swedish novelist, Stieg Larsson, who tragically died in 2004 before he was able to witness the renowned success of his work. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, this film adaptation of Larsson's first novel has already become the highest grossing European film of 2009 and the highest grossing Swedish film of all time, and both for excellent reason. It is a stylish, tense and complex thriller that dwells almost exclusively on the sadism and perversity of modern society, which is what gave the book, and consequently the film even more so, its intense, graphic and deeply disturbing undertones. It's understandable then why the original title of the novel was "Men Who Hate Women" because there is a focus on horrific behavior committed by vile men. An extended rape scene seriously cuts to the core. And while the plot is of a traditional thriller layout with montages of investigation and searching, the process becomes much more about the people involved and the dark atmospheric mood.

A journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) writes for the magazine Millenium, and he published a scalding investigative piece that has him sentenced for time in prison from a libel charge. He has six months of freedom before then, however, and he gets approached by an elderly man named Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) because he needs the help of a resourceful, intelligent reporter. Vanger gives Blomkvist the task of digging up a 40-year-old case about the disappearance of his beloved niece, Harriet Vanger, who vanished off the island on a day when it was cut off from the mainland. This leaves members of the extensive Vanger family as the only suspects as they all inhabit the gloomy island of Hedeby together as if feeding off each other's rumored tendencies of corruption and greed. Henrik Vanger doesn't care for much of his family, especially his three brothers who had links to Nazism.

Salander gets involved in the case because she is the one who researched Blomkvist, and she hacks into his computer amidst his investigation. Needless to say, when they finally do collaborate as a team, she's already up to speed on all the details. Their journey in searching the history of the Vanger family leads them to meet an array of interesting characters with connections that start off simple and only get more involved and with every step of the way. Salander and Blomkvist have such an individually compelling chemistry that the mystery almost serves as merely a backdrop. These aren't the usual characters you'd find in your everyday action thriller. They are characters we want to learn more about even outside the context of the genre.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" feels like a three course meal, but clocking in at just over 2-1/2 hours, it feels about half that length. The density and texture of the novel is maintained as everything unfolds drenched in chilling details. It's the most richly satisfying film I've seen this year, and quite arguably the best film so far this year. And with two more adaptations of Larsson's remaining novels coming to America this summer, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," that's something to look forward to because it gives us another chance to see these talented Swedish actors at work. The inevitable Hollywood remake in the works is rumored to star Kristen Stewart and be directed by David Fincher. In the meantime, do yourself a favor, and don't let subtitles scare you away.

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