Saturday, May 1, 2010
Movie Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)
From Sweden's frigid landscape comes a chilling story of terrible brutality hiding beneath the facade of mundane normalcy.
The film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is all about sinister intentions below the surface of attempted respectability, with victims -- at least those who survive -- desperately trying to lift or tear the veils of secrecy that evil lurks behind.
Respected investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist is victimized by a corrupt corporation and sentenced to a 6-month prison term. In the period before he needs to start his sentence, he is hired by the elderly and reclusive Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of his niece Hariett, all of 40 years ago. Henrik suspects that one of his family members is responsible, and since the extended Vanger family of industrialists includes an assortment of neo-Nazis and religious fanatics, there is no shortage of suspects hiding secrets.
Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, is a professional hacker / researcher, first hired to probe Blomqvist's background but then teaming up with him to unravel the Vanger mystery. Salander is young but already a victim several times over: as a young girl she was abused by her father, and when she gained her fiery revenge on him, she landed in the cold custody of the state, and she continues to be agonizingly victimized by her state-appointed guardian.
As Blomqvist and Salander peel away the secrets of Harriett Vanger's disappearance, instead of resolving a long-lost mystery they come face-to-face with a modern day horror story that will easily surpass their collective experience with evil.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo works brilliantly on a couple of levels. As a study of two fascinating characters, both Blomqvist and especially Salander come to life as intriguing victims trying to deal with the world on their own terms. Michael Nyqvist as Blomqvist and Noomi Rapace as Salander both deliver exquisite performances that hint at continuous swirling emotions just barely concealed behind controlled public facades.
The film is also a tasty examination of evil lurking everywhere, from suburban households to state institutions to family-held businesses to global corporations. And when evil comes to the surface, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo stares at it instead of turning away. Director Niels Arden Oplev keeps the camera pointed at the action for scenes of torture, abuse and rape. It makes for uncomfortable, dramatic viewing, and certainly heightens the intensity of the movie and clarifies in no uncertain terms the character motivations, particularly from Lisbeth's perspective.
Despite a running time of two and a half hours, the movie quickly grips and refuses to yield a simmering level of intensity that is both exhilarating and exhausting. Inspired by the endless snow fields that eternally blanket large swaths of Sweden, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo confirms that it's what beneath the surface that really matters.
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