24 May 2010

Review: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

I am usually well versed on foreign films and eagerly anticipate their North American release. I admit that I was a little caught off guard by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When I first heard of the film some months ago I did not know that it was an adaptation of an international best-selling Swedish novel. The author, Stieg Larsson, died in 2004 and left three unpublished manuscripts that made up his Millenium trilogy. The second and third novels, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, have already been released as films in Sweden with the principle cast, but a different director. In the past couple of months the trilogy has become something of a phenomenon in Canada, with bookstores dedicating a considerable amount of retail space to the novels. I have not read the books yet, but I had been planning to and am even more interested after seeing the film. The film's original Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, directly translates to "Men Who Hate Women" and puts less emphasis on the character of Lisbeth Salander, who is the girl with the dragon tattoo. Both of the lead actors are fantastic. Credit must be given to both Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace for pushing themselves to create such intense characters. At first I had trouble with the Swedish dialogue and found myself paying too much attention to the subtitles, but after a very short while it became easier and I was fully enjoying the Swedish culture on screen. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an intelligently crafted and well-paced thriller with dedicated acting from its principle cast. It is a film that left me speechless and I cannot wait until the fall to see The Girl who Played with Fire.

Michael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is an investigative journalist who has lost a libel case against Hans-Eric Wunnerstr
öm, an industrialist that Blomkvist believes is corrupt. While waiting to serve his sentence he is approached by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the aging head of the Vanger Group. Henrik and his entire family live on a remote island that is only accessible by a bridge. Henrik hires Blomkvist to investigate the death of his niece Harriet, who disappeared forty years ago. No body was ever found and the police were unable to find a suspect, but Henrik yearns to know the truth before he dies. Blomkvist moves into a small cottage on the island and has access to old files and is able to talk to Harriet's relatives. Blomkvist is unaware that he was being followed by a young girl named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a computer hacker with a dark and troubled past. She must report to a guardian that controls her finances. This man, Bjurman (Peter Andersson), is a sadist and forces Lisbeth to perform sexual acts to gain access to her own money. Blomkvist learns that Lisbeth has hacked into her computer and forces his way into her life. Lisbeth then moves in with him on the island and the two begin investigating Harriet's case together. They discover that there was a string of religious-themed murders in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The evidence points to some very disturbing facts and the film does a fantastic job of keeping the viewer on his feet. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reveals itself slowly and deliberately leading to some shocking events and a satisfying conclusion.

From the moment Noomi Rapace appears on screen it is evident that she controls the film. She makes Lisbeth Salander a tough and aggressive character that deserves empathy. Having not read the novel I was left speechless by so many events in the film. It is violent and it is provocative, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is never boring. I love that foreign film force you to pay closer attention to the dialogue. While some thoughts may have been lost in translation, the dialogue seemed well suited to the characters. I was also incredibly impressed with the pacing of the film. There were scenes that were uncomfortable, but there was not a single moment that felt forced or unnecessary. I was intrigued by what Roger Ebert wrote in his four-star review of the film. He called it "a sober, grown-up film. [...] This is a movie about characters who have more important things to do than be characters in an action film." There was a great focus on acting above action in the film and that made The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo compelling and thrilling. Without the strength of its actors the film would have fallen flat. I am worried about the supposed American remake of the film. Hollywood tends to ruin great foreign films, and even though Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese have been rumoured to be interested in the project, let's hope that this great film can exist on its own.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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