Sunday, 21 March 2010

FILM REVIEW: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)

For all the franchises and trilogies out there in the world, here is one I am happy to jump the bandwagon - and I urge you to, too.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo first came to my attention last November when it screened at the Leeds International Film Festival. At the time of its showing it was one of the highest rated films of the event, beaten only by Oscar winner Departures and then on the last day when Ponyo jumped them all. It had sold out very quickly and I wondered where all the interest was coming from. Only later I discovered it was a big screen adaptation of the first in a best selling series of books by late Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson (although at that point fans were eagerly awaiting the publication of the final novel). It didn't grab me straight away - crime writing isn't really my thing - but it was the trailer that really sold it to me. I do like a good straightforward murder mystery, as long as it doesn't get too bogged down in police corruption (this is where I struggled with the Red Riding trilogy). Thankfully there are no police in this story.

Convicted journalist Mikael Blomkvist is asked by elderly businessman Henrik Vanger to look into the unsolved case regarding his missing niece Harriet. Her disappearance from the family home 30 years ago remains a mystery although she is believed to have been murdered. The old man, who has been unable to let her go, has been receiving framed flowers every year for his birthday mimicking a pattern of Harriet's when she was alive. He believes he is being taunted by her murderer, and he asks Blomkvist to take one last look at the case which police have long since abandoned to try and get answers to the questions that anchor him. Simultaneously, hacker Lisbeth Salander has got herself involved in Blomkvist's activities after secretly investigating him for the libel court case. She becomes drawn into the missing person case when she hacks into his computer and finds a document containing a number puzzle he is trying to work out. Using her code cracking skills she emails him the answer to the puzzle, and in doing so brings him to her, and the two of them dig deeper into the case uncovering a misogynist serial killer and a family rotten with Nazism and abuse.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's original Swedish title is "Man Som Hatar Kvinnor" - "Men Who Hate Women". This is not an easy film to watch, something I hadn't really prepared myself for when going to see it. There are a lot of uncomfortable brutally violent and sexual scenes involving the women and girls in the film, not only surrounding the murder case but also around lead character Lisbeth, who herself has a dark history built around abuse. The scenes with her guardian are particularly harrowing to watch, the subsequent justice not being of any ease. This film does not shy away from the graphic scenes depicted in Larsson's novel, and if you can stomach it then it's an extraordinarily powerful story to watch, one I am looking forward to getting to grips with in the following two instalments due out later this year.

The story had me engrossed from start to finish - the puzzle unfolding bit by bit interspersed with moments of suspense and high drama. It reminded me a lot of Zodiac but because this wasn't a police investigation it had that underground, adventure element to it as well, especially in the part where Blomkvist breaks into the house of one of the Vanger family. Of course there were a few fantastical moments that only ever happen in fiction (the clues literally do fall into place!), but that is offset by the cracking pace of the film, the brilliant acting, and the morose and bleak choreography of a hushed and sinister Swedish landscape.

The American re-make will not be far behind, so please, PLEASE go and treat yourself to a couple of hours of sublime filmmaking from Sweden, with accomplished performances, a satisfying and exciting story and characters you want to invest in. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is not something to be missed, and it's only a pity the late author can't see how much of a sensation his creation has become.

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