The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Niels Arden Oplev’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” in story and pacing, feels a lot like a pulp thriller one would find in an airport. Indeed, it’s based on a popular Swedish novel by Stieg Larsson. We have the mismatched detectives, we have the complex mystery, we have the carefully placed McGuffins and red herrings, we have complete subplots which involve each of the main characters individually, we have shady secrets, and we have an explosively violent climax which involves one or both of our main characters in peril. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” however, is actually much better than one of those airplane novels, and indeed, is better than most American thrillers of this ilk.
This is thanks largely to the main character Lisbeth Salander, and the serpent-tongued performance given by Noomi Rapace. Lisbeth is a twentysomething ultra-Goth bisexual computer hacker, who spits at the world and has no problems breaking rules to match her own personal sense of justice. She also has a streak of compassionate altruism, which is what gets her involved with disgraced reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who is, himself, about to serve a prison term.
The story is as follows: Mikael has been hired by an elderly captain of industry (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the disappearance of his niece forty years earlier. The disappearance may have ties to corporate secrets, or, more likely, to the shady Nazi past of his siblings. Since Mikael is on the verge of serving a prison sentence for blowing the whistle on corporate corruption, he decides to take the case, however hopeless it may seem.
Meanwhile Lisbeth has been working as a freelance hacker-for-hire, and living on the handouts from her parole officer. Her parole officer is an impolite boor who seems to have made a habit of forcing fellatio onto his charges. Don’t worry, though. Lisbeth manages to take care of that problem in a just and creative fashion (I don’t want to reveal what she does, but it will have you wincing and cheering at the same time). Lisbeth also spends her free time hacking into Mikael’s computer, and following his case. It’s not long before they meet and work on the case together.
What sounds clichéd in description actually plays as tense and rich on screen. Rapace manages to turn Lisbeth from a standard, boilerplate badass chick into an intense, coiled and sympathetic human being. We are not just thriller by her vengeful actions, but begin to understand and even live vicariously through her clear black-and-white moral code. Even though the story may be familiar to anyone who has read a detective novel, Oplev’s capable direction manages to keep you surprised and on your toes. I don’t like to use this clichéd critic phrase but: this film will have you on the edge of your seat. What’s more, at 152 minutes, Oplev allows his film to grow in calm atmosphere, and is not, like some American thrillers, overly eager to get to the next step in the story. I understand that the Swedish version of this film was a full three hours. It’s rare that a thriller is allowed that kind of time to develop.
There are two more films in this series (“The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”), to be released in America over the next few years. I await them eagerly.
There seems to be an unfortunate trend with international thrillers released in America (I’m thinking specifically of “Tell No One” here). They are merely above average, but audiences are thrilled to see something done so well by a non-American, that the film gets overly praised by the very virtue of them being not American. Would “Edge of Darkness” have received better reviews if it had been made in Iceland? Would “Tell No One” have been as big a hit if it were made in America with Mel Gibson? Perhaps not. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” may be accused of succumbing to this phenomenon, but I assure you, despite its origin, and despite any critical snottiness on my part, it is a legitimately good film, and I heartily recommend it.