Swedish people tend to make some weird movies. Last year’s Let The Right One In was an intense, slow-burning vampire drama that made Twilight look like an episode of Strictly Come Dancing. This year, the big Swedish export comes in the form of Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation of the opening novel of the Millennium trilogy from late author Steig Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
The titular ‘girl’ is goth-dressing computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (semi-newcomer Noomi Rapace), hired by companies to get information on big-name celebrities. With a troubled past and a sexually abusive social worker (a frankly fucking terrifying Peter Andersson), her life is lived paycheque to paycheque; whilst earning such a wage she is asked to dig info on controversial journalist Mikael Blomqvist (a brilliant Michael Nyqvist), about to serve a prison term for a piece on corporate fraud. Simultaneously, Blomqvist is hired by reclusive bigwig Henrik Vanger to investigate a series of family disappearances dating back to the ’70s. And things get weird from there. Sound confusing? It is, a touch.
However, what this whole opening set-up goes on to make is a tremendously innovative, original film which is by turns harrowing, funny and thrilling. Once you get past the weirdness of Swedish sounding a lot like English with a hilarious accent (honestly, parts sound like “djfnbfniiiwooocdduu September 1966 jdnshoooofvuwww”), it’s also a tightly-scripted crime drama full of plot twists and turns which don’t fail to churn your stomach and befuddle your mind. The opening 40 minutes take a while to set the stage, but once the film gets into stride it really doesn’t look back.
The trailer for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo makes it look a lot like Jason Bourne in Swedish with a female lead, but in reality there could scarcely be two more different and disparate movies. Not that Oplev’s film lacks suspense and thrills, these it in fact has in abundance, but because it’s actually a cross between a crime procedural and an ugly social commentary. The first hour offers not one, but two acts of sexual violence, which are incredibly difficult to watch and are not under any circumstances for the faint of heart. But these are not just there to exploit the explicit, they do really add to the realistic feel of the movie and make Lisbeth’s actions later on much more understandable (plus set up one of the most vindictive revenge scenes ever put on celluloid).
The chemistry between our two leads develops as they spend time together on the mysterious, insular island on which the entire Vanger family reside, each locked up in their own houses, barely on speaking terms in most cases. Lisbeth and Mikael are an efficient crime-solving pair, but as the romantic tension builds we are forced to ask if they can possibly work as a convincing screen couple. Rapace and Nyqvist both handle the emotional stuff well, but the film doesn’t feel quite as at home in the romantic scenes as it does in the thrilling exposition and nerve-wracking tension of the final act.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo would, in the end, only be as good as its dénouement, and fortunately we are rewarded for sticking with the film through a fantastic finale, featuring some almost Hitchcockian suspense, brilliant directorial work and one of the most hauntingly disturbing murderer speeches since Hannibal Lecter. Oplev’s film definitely goes out on a massive high, and the skilled acting, cinematography and direction in the procedural scenes all contribute to a riveting thriller that will shock, surprise and scare in equal measure.
9/10: A brilliant thriller which really finds its feet after a somewhat drawn out opening act, and a film which defies its trailer to brilliant effect, not making it a poorly-realised Bourne ripoff but an original flick which is (hopefully not, but almost certain) to be ruined by a bad Hollywood remake. It feels awkward in the romantic stuff, but when it’s down to brass tacks and crime solving, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is really a superb piece of work. With the two sequels already shot, we can look forward to yet more skilled Scandinavian filmmaking later this year.