Noomii Rapace and Michael Nyqvist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattooo.
I'd vaguely heard of the book this movie was based on because it was such a big seller, but I only really became aware of the movie when I heard they were making an English language version starring Daniel Craig. Having seen it now, I can only say they're going to have to do a hell of a good job with that remake to top this, the original Swedish version.
The plot is that of a mystery thriller. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, is invited by the 82 year old patriarch of the rich and powerful Vanger family to investigate a 40 year old mystery. Henrik wants Mikael to try and discover what happened to Henrik's niece, Harriet, who disappeared in the 1960s from the family estate. Henrik has long suspected she was killed by one his many relatives who were gathered together on the last day she was seen alive. And given that so many of the Vanger's were well known Nazis or, at the very least, Nazi sympathizers, with all the evil that implies, coupled with the fact that they are a rich and ruthless clan, Henrik seems to have plenty of reason to suspect foul play, especially because it was well known that the girl was Henrik's favorite. Despite his suspicions, nothing was ever learned about her disappearance despite Henrik's money and the police's exhaustive investigations. It is only because Henrik senses that he won't be long for this world that he decides to have one more go at learning the truth.
Oh, and lest I forget, every year Henrik receives a pressed flower on his birthday, just as he did from Harriet every year when she was a child. He suspects it is sent to him by the killer as a way of taunting him.
Blomkvist has his own problems. He's recently been sued for libel and lost. He has six months before he has to serve a three month sentence in prison. The search for Harriet starts as a way for him to take his mind off of his own troubles, but soon becomes an obsession for him.
While Blomkvist searches for Harriet, we are also introduced to computer hacker Lisabeth Salander. She is the girl with the dragon tattoo and a dark past. The security firm whom investigated Blomkvist before approaching him on behalf of the Vanger family, used her hacking abilities to learn all they could about him. Lisabeth continued to monitor him even after her job was done and she too, from afar at first, becomes obsessed with the mystery of Harriet.
There are moments of sexual violence in this movie that I wonder if they will be able to recreate in the remake. Lisabeth is violently raped at one point by her probation officer, and she later extracts a violent revenge. The mystery of Harriet takes Blomkvist and Lisabeth down a twisted path where they encounter true evil in human form. It is at times, almost difficult to watch, but at the same time almost impossible to look away. As the story drew to a climax, I wanted to know what happened to Harriet as much as the two leads. I won't give it away of course, but I'll just say that my guess was completely wrong.
Normally, I am one who complains loudly about movies that run too long, but I won't begrudge this one any one of its 180+ minutes. I enjoyed each and every one of them. Sure, you could argue that it takes a while to really get into the mystery, but at the same time, I was intrigued by these characters and I wanted to learn more about them.
While I'm curious to see what they'll do with the remake, I know that they'll never top this version. And they'll never top this cast.
Michael Nyqvist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
No Scott, they will not top this cast. Having now watched many foreign films, I have come to appreciate one important aspect to them. Foreign films feature realistic looking people. This is most notable during the sex scenes. Noomi Rapace is flat chested and not conventionally beautiful. Michael Nyqvist has average looks and build. He has not shaved his body hair. These are realistic looking people compared to the fake Hollywood usuals, like the buff, chest shaven Daniel Craig. Hollywood gives us many beautiful people, but for us to buy into some films, we have to be able to forget that they are. Often when Hollywood stars do sex/nude scenes I am struck by how posed, plastic and pallid they always seem.
Michael Nyqvist is well past middle aged and has a lifetime written on his face. Mikael is not some young idealist. He is at an unhappy point in his life. He rarely smiles in the film. His search for Harriet's killer is also a search for a meaning in his life. By the end of the film he has been revitalized.
Lisbeth is, at first, an enigma. As Mikael says, "What has happened to you? How did you turn out this way? You know everything about me. I don't know shit about you. Not a damn thing." We quickly learn three things about her. She is resourceful, tough and attracts trouble. Her back story slowly comes out.
Although some early scenes with her are disgustingly interesting, they are the scenes that could have been edited. The film takes over an hour of screen time for Lisbeth and Mikael to finally meet and team up. Noomi Rapace fits the part well enough, but it is her fashion, tattoo and history that make her interesting. Rapace simply has to look sullen 90% of the time. At the end, Lisbeth makes a move that indicates that she wants to heal her very deep wounds, but I am not at all sure she has.
The mystery drew me in very quickly, but my original guess proved to be almost exactly as it turned out. This did not at all ruin my enjoyment of the film. After all, movies are a journey as well as a destination. These two opposites teaming up and finding an attraction to each other is just as fascinating as the mystery. Like Scott, I am a bit apprehensive about the remake. Why did they even bother? Are people really so lazy as to be put off by subtitles? .
Peter Andersson and Noomi Rapace in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Scott, the version I watched was only about 2½ hours, not 180+ minutes. I hope I didn’t miss anything, although the story seemed quite complete. It could use some editing, especially during the early scenes like when Lisbeth gets jumped by a gang of young men. It is only included to show just how tough she is. The character of Lisbeth’s guardian seemed the most unlikely. What are the odds that no one had ever reported him before? At any rate this is one sick fuck and he seems to be included only to allow Lisbeth to play out a revenge fantasy.
Revenge seems to be the underlying theme of the movie. Lisbeth has clearly been severely used and abused by men and she is shown exacting revenge in a flashback as a little girl, as well as at the movie’s violent climax against the Nazi serial killer. He was, apparently, just carrying on the family tradition he inherited from his equally sick father.
It took me a while but I did figure out one key fact about Harriet, which I won’t give away. In retrospect they actually give it away early on if you are paying attention.
As my brothers wrote, the cast is excellent. Nyqvist and Rapace own these characters and I will have a hard time seeing anyone else try to fill their shoes. I will say that to me it was obvious this book was written by a man, especially in regards to Lisbeth’s sexuality. She is shown naked in bed with another woman in one scene but other than that she isn’t portrayed as a lesbian. She is a straight man’s fantasy of a bisexual woman.
One tiny bit of trivia is that Lisbeth’s hacker friend uses the handle Plague. This may just be a coincidence but this same moniker was used by a computer hacker in the movie Hackers back in 1995. Perhaps Stieg Larsson was a fan of that movie.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a solidly entertaining mystery/thriller with memorable central characters. It did hold my attention throughout its long running time but I wouldn’t have minded seeing a slightly edited version either.
Photos © Copyright Music Box Films (2009)