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How I Fell in Love with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by on June 30, 2010

This week in new box office releases left the average moviegoer with few choices. Tom Cruise’s latest disaster opened to the tune of $20.5 million. A few more people checked out the SNL reunion plus Kevin James, a.k.a. Grownups, but it was obvious by the response to the controversial Twitter Adgate that this community has absolutely no interest in that one. This severely limited my choices to bring you a quality film review on what I hoped would be a quality film. In light of this, I decided to visit my local art cinema and while the film I chose is not a new release – in fact, this film will be released on DVD and Bly-ray on July 6th – it is a quality film.

So, let’s make with the culture.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or Män som hatar kvinnor, is the first film in a trilogy based on the novels by the late Swedish author, Stieg Larsson. Before I get into the plot of this film, I need to mention the reason I was drawn to it. My most recent brush with Swedish film came with 2008’s Let the Right One In. If you have not seen this film, stop reading now and go watch it. Let the Right One In has given the movie going world the BEST incarnation of vampires in recent years. I was hopeful that my track record with Swedish films would continue along the same trajectory and if it was not a good film, at least I could imagine that every character was related to the Swedish Chef.

Released in Denmark in February of last year, this film took its sweet-ass time getting to American audiences, premiering at the Miami Film Festival in March of this year. Directed by someone you’ve never heard of and starring a bunch of people that look vaguely familiar, but you have never seen, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows Mikael Blomkvist, portrayed by Michael Nyqvist, a journalist who is convicted of libel at the onset of the film and sentenced to a short prison stay. Blomkvist is given six months until he must report to serve his prison term. At the same time, we meet the punkish Lisbeth Salander, played by the haunting Noomi Rapace, an antisocial, tattooed and pierced girl who knows how to get information (read – brilliant hacker). Salander has been investigating Blomkvist and believes that he was set up.

Blomkvist is hired by the aging Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, Henrik’s niece. Harriet was sixteen when she disappeared about forty years ago, and Vanger is convinced that a member of his family is the guilty party. As if being four decades removed from the crime wasn’t enough, the circumstances surrounding the date further complicate matters: the entire Vanger family was on the island for a board meeting of the Vanger companies, so they are all suspects. There was a Children’s Day celebration in town and the bridge that connects the island with the mainland was closed for several hours due to an accident. Blomkvist agrees to spend the six months before his prison sentence working for Mr. Vanger to investigate the crime. Vanger provides Blomkvist with a place to stay on the island, some of the back story on the Vanger family and boxes and boxes of newspaper clippings, photographs and Harriet’s personal belongings.

This film doesn’t break any new ground in storytelling, but it does is develop characters without the need to spoon feed the audience every hardship they have faced, which is a departure from many Hollywood releases. From my limited exposure, it seems that Swedish filmmakers have a knack for making a character out of the physical setting. Director Niels Arden Oplev brings to life the fictional and desolate Hedeby Island and is adept at utilizing all of the limitations of such a setting.

Salander either feels some sort of kinship with Blomkvist or is intrigued by the puzzle of Harriet’s disappearance and points Blomkvist in the right direction by hacking his files and e-mailing them back with her notes, before eventually joining him in his investigation. Together the unlikely pair discovers some well-hidden secrets about the Vanger family. Like any crime drama, the closer we are to answers, the closer our heroes are to danger, but Oplev keeps the audience guessing, even after the mystery is solved.

I have omitted most of Salander’s story, purposefully, because each element combines to make a believable and likable character. I will mention that Salander is on some type of probation and this element drives the plot to a point, but this arc is eventually wrapped up in an intense and disturbing scene that shows that Salander will never be a victim. Salander’s actions deepen her character and make one want to learn more about her past. The great news is that the two sequels deal, at least in part, with Salander’s past.

Oplev gives audiences a film that may not feel right to Americans at first, but one that ends up being more than a breath of fresh air amidst the normal big budget, big market fare that usually chokes us all summer. Oplev shows that, given good source material, films can be made for a fraction of the cost of any Hollywood release. This foreign gem that only cost $7 million to make is one that will stick with me, unlike… what was that last one I watched?

Out of $10, how much would I pay to see this one again? $9, but I’ll probably just wait another week, buy it on Blu-ray and await the sequel the following week.

Jay (J.C.) Fralick is the host of The Drivecast
The co-host of the Wanna Watch a Movie Podcast
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