Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [Män som hatar kvinnor] (2009)
Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based upon the novel by Stieg Larsson (which I have not read), is one great movie, a Hitchcockian, Almodovaresco, Coen Brothers-level unconventional thriller story of women and men and a lot of things they want and need from one another, set on a weird Swedish family island where an age-old family mystery--murder?--is being reinvestigated. The Swedish title is less intriguing but blunt: "Men Who Hate Women."
I mostly don't use the word "Swedish" without "weird" as the immediate modifier--unless, of course, we're talking about delicious meatballs--and is that better or worse because I'm Danish? Anyway, it works for this movie. Aggressively weird and odd, violent, terse, involving, moving, striking, surprising, this is filmmaking at its best, as complicated as The Godfather and flatly gorgeous like The Silence of the Lambs.
The film begins with a scene of an old man (Sven-Bertil Taube, very good) opening an envelope, somehow reluctantly. The contents are revealed as framed dried wildflowers. He begins to sob largely, almost comically.
It's kind of a jarring moment, wondering if he's really crying or laughing or what kind of reaction that is--are we supposed to laugh, anticipate a character we've just met? Get used to the jarring moments, there are two and a half more hours of them to come, we're lucky like that.
You may think I'm kidding, but basically every time you relax and think you can see the plot coming down Fifth Avenue, there's some little twist, sometimes subtle, sometimes out of nowhere, always better than what one might have imagined or expected from a less daring and humanistic film, and eminently faithful to the characters as established.
The main story concerns Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, first-class), a journalist who's lost a court case and been gently persuaded to take a sabbatical from his magazine writing, at least until the ramifications of the litigation are all ironed out. In the meantime, he's quietly vetted and offered the job of investigating the disappearance of Harriet Vanger from her family's private island forty years ago. Intrigued, especially when he recalls being watched by Harriet when he was a child and vacationed with his family on the island, he leaps into the investigation in a broad-ranging, intelligent way.
There's not much more I can say without spoiling things, except that Nyqvist becomes involved with a hacker named Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) who's no slouch in the investigative department. Actress Rapace is so compelling as Lisbeth, it's beyond words. Check it out. The film reminded me a bit of 2008's Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In), also from Sweden, with a similar alternative love story, but maybe a little bit because that's the last Swedish film I saw.
I'm not a big fan or anti-fan of subtitles, they can be annoying or distracting--though I prefer them to bad dubbing--but this movie has them, and I wanted to especially compliment them. Even though there are several English cognates spoken in the film, the writer of the subtitles uses a different word than the one the Swedish word sounds like, for example, the characters use a word that sounds like "murder," and the translator gives it as "kill," so you get a double verbal emphasis several times. I found it quite effective.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will stick with you. It's beautiful, complex, haunting, edge-of-your-seat, without fake emotional manipulation or action-movie adrenaline runs. It is supposed to be the first in a trilogy, and is already in pre-production for an American version which will likely suffer by comparison. Catch it if you have the chance!
The Magic of the Movies