The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2010) dir. Niels Arden Oplev
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Lena Endre, Peter Haber
By Alan Bacchus
Since the discussion of the first Tattoo movie in relationship to the new film comes up all the time for me, why not repost my original review of the Niels Arden Oplev version. For the Fincher version, click HERE.
The success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy books is widely known – a European phenomenon, which over this past year has finally broken in North America. All three films based on the three books, including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, have already been shot, completed and released abroad to mega box office success. So, for once, North America has been left as the ‘last to know’ about these stories.
Not much has been made of the success of its North American theatrical release yet, but it’s an achievement. Considering the ‘in and out and get to the DVD release’ pattern of most films these days, its 13 weeks in release in a modest number of theatres is remarkable. Though it's only garnered a modest $7.3 million dollar take, the distributors and exhibiters seemed to have hit the sweet spot of its release – just enough theatres for it to maintain a solid word of mouth momentum and profitability, and a precedent for how smaller films can have lasting power in the cinema.
As for the movie, it’s just as remarkable. It’s a thrilling slice of Euro-pulp and a heavily plotted investigative, serial killer, feminist melodrama. Slick production value, salacious subject matter and an instantly iconic performance by Noomi Rapace make this the guilty pleasure of the year – a truly epic and inspired piece of airport trash.
Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is a shamed investigative political journalist who has found himself sentenced to prison for apparently slandering a prominent politician publicly in his latest article. At his worst moment he receives a call from an even more prominent Swedish businessman, Henrik Vanger, who wants to hire Mikael to investigate the murder of his niece from 1966. With six months of freedom before having to serve his sentence and without a job, Mikael accepts the offer and soon becomes embroiled in a complex and sordid 40-year-old trail of family squabbles, neo-Nazism tendencies, gruesome sexual fetishes and grisly murder.
Meanwhile, a young 24-year-old tattooed and pierced goth chick, Lisbeth Salander (Noomie Rapace), the anti-social yet brilliant investigator who hacked into Blomkqvist’s computer on behalf of Vanger, is on her own path of adventure. Out of the blue she’s been told her guardianship (she's still being recognized as a youth) has been transferred to an especially slimy attorney. He turns out to be a masochist who subjects Lisbeth to humiliating sexual torture. That is, until she turns the tables and exacts some sweet revenge against him. After this escapade she joins up with Blomkvist to help solve the 40-year-old cold case.
This rather quick synopsis only scratches the surface of hair-raising peculiarities that make up this narrative. Particularly gruesome is the lengthy build-up to Lisbeth’s history. We don’t know much about her, but her physical appearance suggests a rebellious attitude and a hardened emotional exterior due to some trauma in the past. When the despicable court-appointed guardian enters her life her character is taken to the extreme. The actions of the guardian don’t make much sense logically, but it reinforces with severity Larsson’s pervasive theme of misogyny. The film successfully teases us with flashbacks to Lisbeth as a child and the death of her father via a lit match and some gasoline – a history we just might see fleshed out in The Girl Who Played With Fire.
As a serial killer genre film, director Oplev hits all the right buttons stylistically to entrap us in the complex web of evidence, back story, politics and the delightfully bad deeds of his killer. There’s a lot of procedural information thrown at us, but it’s expertly revealed like peeling the layers of an onion to provide maximum tension. If anything, the final reveals don’t quite elevate its shock value to anything higher than what we saw happen to Lisbeth at the beginning. And the rather sappy reunion that happens in the denouement is a tad too soft for this otherwise darkly cynical film.
Unfortunately, looking ahead to the other films, it appears the director Niels Arden Oplev directed only the first film and another director helmed the last two. In a few months we’ll see if the other two meet the expectations satisfied by Tattoo.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Alliance Films in Canada.