The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Plot: A journalist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by a young female hacker.

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Awards: -
Runtime: 152min
Rating: R21 for disturbing violent content including rape, grisly images, sexual material, nudity and language.



Based on the immensely popular novel of the same name by the late Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an outstanding serial killer mystery-thriller, and one of the best films of the year. The first part of the “Millennium Trilogy”, Dragon Tattoo precedes The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, both of which are already made into films in Sweden. Such is the anticipation for their release outside Sweden that many filmgoers are beginning to hop around in excitement.

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who works mainly in television, Dragon Tattoo is a remarkable effort in feature length filmmaking. Oplev shows exquisite skill in crafting a mystery-thriller that is never formulaic, expressing the desire to deliver a picture whose characters are more important than the story, which in itself is already fascinating to begin with. He takes his time to flesh out the two lead characters by providing viewers with more than a summary of their current life situation, and slices of their past that they could not forget, giving the leads an uncommon depth.

Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) are the two leads. The former is a disgraced financial journalist who is waiting to serve his jail term in six months’ time. The latter is a genius computer hacker who is sexually taken advantage of by her sadistic caretaker. The first half of the film documents these two characters separately, only bringing them together much later. By that time, the film’s murder mystery has become so engrossing that it threatens to overshadow its characters. Yet, it does not.

The story follows Mikael who is paid to pursue an unsolvable case of a young woman who disappeared forty years ago from an island. Through old-school journalistic techniques, and with the help of Lisbeth’s prowess in IT, he uncovers a chilling cultish plot by a Nazi sympathizer who rapes, tortures, and kills women. When the real identity of the killer is revealed at the end, it may not be much of a shocker. However, it is the journey towards that revelation that is integral to the haunting cinematic experience as created by Oplev.

Dragon Tattoo is frightening and it crawls deep under your skin. Mikael sticks loads of old, black-and-white photographs of suspects on his wall to organize his thoughts and try to find links or clues that would shed light on the mystery. Oplev shoots extreme close-ups of these photographs, as if they are blown up to the proportions of a theatre screen. Looking at them gives a creepy feel akin to literally staring into the eyes of a cold-blooded murderer. Repeated exposure to these photos build suspense, of which it cumulates in the film’s most unnerving sequence when Mikael breaks into a suspect’s house to find criminal evidence.

Dragon Tattoo clocks in at about 150 minutes, which makes the film a long (but still satisfying) ride. However, it turns rather draggy in the final twenty minutes as Oplev tries to tie up all the loose ends. The film has been such a competent example of storytelling that cutting the entire final segment would not have caused any problems other than irritating a handful of Larsson’s more vocal fans.

David Fincher, the reputable director of Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007), both of which share eerie similarities with the style and content of Dragon Tattoo, is set to direct the Hollywood remake of Oplev’s film. I usually condemn any news of Hollywood remaking foreign language pictures, but Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo is something I would really love to see.

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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