The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

What do you get, when you add a disgraced and out of work investigative reporter, a troubled yet incredibly talented hacker, a wealthy family whose members cannot stand each other and a tragedy in the family's past? You get a modern interpretation of a classic whodunit mystery thriller. Despite a scarily clichéd plot setup, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Män som hatar kvinnor (original title) is a captivating thriller.

Set in Sweden, the movie captures an alpine feel - over a period stretching from a desaturated winter to warm spring. The screenplay takes its time in introducing the two lead characters. The graphic of the two is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the girl hacker who is currently out on probation for a juvenile conviction. She is consistently capable and self reliant, with an abject lack of empathy that is at once scary and pitiful. Her resolve in trapping and exacting revenge on an abusive guardian shows a disturbing darkness and strength of character. Through the movie this character evolves and softens, and yet the core remain true and hard.

The second main character is Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). Mikael, an investigative reporter, has just lost a libel case, where he believes he was set up with false evidence and planted sources. Awaiting prison time, there is nothing for him to do but accept the offer to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the niece of a wealthy capitalist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube). The two introductory narratives expectedly come together to shine new light on a mystery that is eluded resolution for close to half a century.

The trail to the disappearance of the niece 40 years ago is cold; cold as a Swedish winter. There is but one clue keeping it relevant. While the niece was alive she used send Henrik a framed dry flower every year on his birthday. Upon her disappearance and presumed death, her killer had taken upon this task as a cruel joke. After receiving yet another framed flower Henrik decides that he would make one last attempt at finding closure.

Violence bookends the movie - through the narrative and through time. Wanton perversion and sadism are specters that seem to haunt every scene. While the violent scenes themselves are not gratuitous or overly disturbing, but the cloud of possibility tends to deaden. So much, that one almost has to wonder if the only reason for the existence of the movie is depravity.

There are many pieces that contribute towards a good mystery drama, and they are created to perfection. There is a profusion of potential suspects, though thankfully the movie does not take on the process of elimination. That keeps enough surprises in the two and half hour movie to keep everyone interested and guessing. The cast of characters in the movie, while sometimes approaching Agatha Christie-esque classification, remain decently three dimensional. The movie has a slightly dated feel to it, as if capturing the 90's, though this is not necessarily a bad thing.

That said the screenplay has plausibility gaps, that are typical of novel adaptations. The contrived Christmas scene with Mikael's family comes to mind. There are also the inevitable technological dumb-ifications for mainstream consumption. Typing "find machine, connect machine" on a terminal, should not allow you to hack into other people's computers. But I guess that is the only way to convey what just happened, when your hacker is more reticent than Hugh Jackman in the Swordfish.

The movie is a great example of a dark murder mystery, that has been refreshed for the Google era. There is an underlying angst, that is overridden not by hope but a sense of purpose. Characters are wounded and grey, but still manage to convey a sense of right and wrong. It is almost poetically appropriate that the author of the novel Stieg Larsson gained success posthumously. It is that sense of black irony that pervades and gives life to the movie itself.

March 04, 2011


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