Film Review – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Very early on in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo there’s a scene between said tattoed girl, Lisbeth (a brilliantly minimal performance by Noomi Rapaceand her new male guardian, who has recently been assigned by her parole board. After a few lines from this man, you realise that this film is not going to give you an easy ride.

Based on Stieg Larsson‘s highly successful novel of the same name, and with scenes of strong sexual violence, director Niels Arden Oplev just about stays the right side of what is possible to watch, although there were several scenes where I felt myself recoiling. After last year’s Let the Right One In, Swedish filmmakers are turning a good line in unsettling thrillers.

Writer Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is soon to be jailed for three months after losing a libel action, instigated by the corrupt subject of his investigative journalism. As a result of trial publicity, he is contacted by a wealthy businessman who wishes to investigate the disappearance of his daughter 40 years ago, whom he fears murdered. Computer hacker Lisbeth, remotely accesses Blomkvist’s laptop during the investigation, and ultimately becomes the key to unlocking the mystery of the millionaire’s daughter.

This is a classic thriller, delivering the cuticle-chewing suspense and chills that Hollywood seems unable to get a handle on these days. In part, the tension comes from familiar horror conventions, but most chilling are the individual scenes of unprovoked and misogynistic violence that are inflicted on so many women in this story. It is a tale of female sufferage at the hands of the worst of men, but also of the capacity of some women to endure this and survive.

Nygvist convincingly plays the part of a weary middle-aged man, divorced and seemingly at the end of his career. His rugged appearance is reminiscent of iconic actors such as Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, but he brings a passivity to the character that allows room for the quiet and introverted Lisbeth to dominate the screen with her steely disposition and meditated violence. Ultimately both characters need each other to complete the task at hand and to move beyond the barriers holding them back in their respective lives; for her, a traumatic childhood; for him, the loss of his professional reputation. It’s a refreshingly dark film with a real bite.

Hollywood, don’t even think of trying to remake this, you don’t stand a chance. More Swedish cinema please. 

Stieg Larsson’s other novels, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, have been filmed and are due for release, respectively on 10 September 2010 and 5 November 2010.

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