REVIEW: Män som hatar kvinnor [The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo] [2009]

“They always think I’ll show mercy”

There is no better director in Hollywood to helm Stieg Larsson’s Män som hatar kvinnor [The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo] than David Fincher. It is the perfect mix of Zodiac’s journalistic detecting and Se7en’s dark, religious-based murders. I can only see one problem—Niels Arden Oplev has already brought an adaptation to screens and it is every bit as good as it can be. Would Fincher bring someone uniquely his own to the project? For sure he would, and I’ll admit that I eagerly anticipate what he does with the material. I just hope the Swedish original won’t be left and forgotten. Larsson himself was a Swede and journalist in his own rite before writing the Millennium Trilogy, (named for the magazine lead reporter Mikael Blomkvist is a member of), his widely acclaimed series of crime novels involving many of the same characters throughout. All three were published posthumously after the author died of a massive heart attack at age 50, and there is something to be said about them coming to the big screen in his native language. If the other two, (already released in Sweden), are anything like the first, remakes are unnecessary.

The literal translation of the title—both novel and film—is ‘Men Who Hate Women’. You do not get more appropriate than that since the entire story revolves around abusive father figures, ex-Nazis, street hoodlums, and all sorts of rapists spanning each category. Hated most, or at least the victim we concern ourselves with, is the tattooed 24 year-old eidetic Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). A checkered past has given her a record of mental illness and violence, segueing perfectly to her newest ‘guardian’ (Peter Andersson), a wealthy man looking to domineer and possess rather than be charitable. He blackmails her into performing sex acts for access to her own money, becoming one more in a long line of despicable men. Invisible to herself as a person, Lisbeth hides behind piercings, the giant artwork across her back, and pitch-black hair and make-up, finding solace in other women, the gender that hasn’t betrayed her humanity. Working as a hacker/stalker/hired PI, her research crosses with the persistent, tenacious, and successful journalist Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), recently sentenced to serve three months in prison for libel, a crime he says was a set-up in order to silence him. Unable to let go of this seemingly kindhearted and criminally clean man, she involves herself in his newest assignment, a six-month investigation into the disappearance of a teen forty years earlier.

I’m still not sure about the Scandinavian legal system in use—Blomkvist is found guilty, allowed to leave the courtroom, and actually has 180 days of free travel before returning for his sentence—but the window of time allows him to be hired by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the only redeeming member of the wealthy Vanger Group family and their Nazi connections. Knowing he doesn’t have much time left, the mystery surrounding his niece Harriet’s disappearance four decades earlier has to be solved now. Assuming a family member killed her to send a message, pressed and framed flowers—her signature gift—have continued to arrive each year on his birthday. To him they are just a constant reminder from the killer, showing he couldn’t keep her safe. So, uncaring of the controversy surrounding Blomkvist, he hires the reporter to sift through files and photos to see what he may unearth on the Vanger’s island estate. Digging up more than he could imagine, puzzles are unearthed that he can’t solve. Lisbeth, mirroring the reporter’s desktop and every move on her own computer, is the one to crack them. Once the two officially partner up, the answers all begin to fall into place, ratcheting up the suspense and danger as the dark, disturbing truth reveals itself.

The first half of the film is very intriguing, showing us both characters as they go through life alone, on their collision course. Lisbeth must deal with her guardian’s—a horrific performance of malice by Andersson, leading into some tough to sit through scenes—rules and abuse until finding a way to beat him at his own game. Her parents are non-existent and her only friend is another computer hacker who doesn’t appear to ever leave his apartment. As for Blomkvist, he is divorced and now out of a job due to the jail term and controversy, holding out hope Millennium doesn’t buckle under it. The prospect of spending six months on an island away from people he knows couldn’t have come at a better time. So, both these souls are lost and looking for something to keep them going in the face of adversity. He knows nothing about her, yet she knows everything of him. Watching her, this strong-willed woman unafraid and unable to truly love, become infatuated with Blomkvist is fascinating, at first as a way to apply her talents to the case, but eventually also a baring of her soul. The relationship between them goes from father/daughter professionalism to one that’s much more, in an oddly uncomfortable way yet also completely authentic to their respective psychologies.

Teaming these two up forms the perfect duo to solve the crime. Both want to know the truth, but each copes with the revelations in their own way. Blomkvist is unable to harm someone no matter what they have done while Lisbeth has never been averse to violent retribution, even as a child. Both performances are superbly nuanced and complex. Nyqvist is the least interesting of the two—extremely entertaining to watch as he deduces information from clues found, but a journalist doing his job, trumped by his enigmatic counterpart—while Rapace is unforgettable as Lisbeth. Her steely, emotionless visage is ever-present, breaking only for the screams of horror during abuse or the tremors of isolation and fear as she lights a cigarette, knees pressed to her chest. The film is just as much about her evolution as a person and detective skills, seeking revenge without remorse, but honing her expertise to exist, at least partially, on the right side of the law. Oplev adds his own stamp to the visuals, but when all is said and done, Rapace steals the show in every way. I only wish the ending, after the mystery is solved but before the loose ends of Blomkvist’s tale are tied up, didn’t feel so clumsy and rushed. It does, however, set the stage for the next installment and the assumed larger role Lisbeth will play. Before that, though, I can’t think of many crime thrillers better.

Män som hatar kvinnor [The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo] 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

[1] Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) stars in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. © Music Box Films
[2] Erika Berger (Lena Endre) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. © Music Box Films


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