The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – a movie review

Sometimes brutal, always fascinating, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo draws you in with two intriguing protagonists and holds you with a layered mystery that goes back forty years. Known as Man som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) in its original Swedish, and based on the international bestselling book by Steig Larsson, this thriller grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Mikael Blomkvist  (Michael Nyqvist) is a forty-something investigative journalist who has been found unjustly guilty of libel against a corrupt Swiss industrialist, but doesn’t have to start his six-month sentence just yet. In the interim, he is asked by extremely wealthy octogenarian Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance and probable murder of his favorite niece, Harriet, forty years previous. With little else to occupy him, Mikael takes the assignment.

Our title character is twenty-something Lisbeth Salander, compellingly played by Noomi Rapace. She is a professional computer hacker, is covered in tattoos and piercings, rides a motorcycle, and considered odd but good at her job at the research firm for which she works. Lisbeth has little social skill and is under the guardianship of the state, having to report in at intervals, due to a previous stint in a mental hospital. She is employed by a representative of Henrik Vanger to make sure Mikael is innocent of the charges against him before Mikael is offered the assignment by Mr. Vanger.

Intrigued by the case herself, she begins to work with Mikael, and the action really picks up at this point. She is a far more aggressive person than Mikael, and their relationship, as she temporarily moves in with Mikael on the island the Vangers own and on which Harriet’s disappearance occurred, is the highlight of the movie. Mikael doesn’t know what to make of Lisbeth, who is clearly outside his experience, and Lisbeth is startled by Mikael’s kindness to her, something of which she clearly has little experience.

Director Niels Arden Oplev knows how to ratchet up the suspense, breaking it occasionally with a burst of unanticipated humor. He makes use of the stark landscapes around Stockholm (where the movie was filmed) and the interesting topography near the water. From a motorcycle chase, to Nazis, to uncovering longheld secrets of a powerful family, the story takes you by the throat, but it is Mikael and especially Lisbeth who keep you watching.

There are a few brutal, uncomfortable scenes, two involving Lisbeth herself, which tell us that Lisbeth will not be made a victim, no matter the circumstances. These scenes and another with Mikael are not for the easily upset, but they somehow fit the darkness of the overall story.

Though the book on which the movie is based is the first of a trilogy, the story in the movie has a beginning, middle and end. You don’t feel when it is over that you must find out the rest of the story because it seems incomplete. It isn’t. However, you may, like me, want to know the further adventures of Lisbeth and therefore look forward to the upcoming adaptations of The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. May the American remake, due in 2012, capture the tone of this one.

The film is in the Swedish language with English subtitles.

by Heather Craig

Girl with the Dragon Tatoo movie poster

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