AKA: Män som hatar kvinnor, Men Who Hate Women
Year Released: 2009
Distributor: Music Box Films
Running Time: 153 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R
Related Films/Series: The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011 American Remake), Millennium, The Girl in the Spider’s Web
For Fans Of: The Girl On The Train, Monster (Naoki Urasawa anime), Man on Fire, Storm, The Black Dahlia
-This review is based on the original film and not the American remake.
-The Swedish language track was used for reviewing purposes.
-Noomi Rapace, the actress portraying the main character Lisbeth is more famous to American viewers for playing Dr. Elizabeth Shaw from Prometheus. What do you know? Both protagonists have similar names. To be honest, after watching Prometheus in theaters back then, I thought she was played by a British actress instead of someone from Hudiksvall, Sweden.
-As you may or may not know, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its sequels are based on the Millennium novel series from the late Stieg Larsson.
-All three films in the Millennium series were released in 2009. That’s one heck of a filming grind right there.
-Director Niels Arden Oplev will direct the Flatliners sequel coming out this year. It will feature Ellen Page, Diego Luna, and Keifer Sutherland will reprise his role from the original film.
Yes, I get to review another film that American filmmakers have remade. Looks like I’m on some kind of a roll here. I’ve reviewed Ringu and Yojimbo (okay, the creators of A Fistful of Dollars were forced to admit that they ripped off that film, but that’s another discussion), but now I get to check out the first film in the Millennium trilogy from Sweden.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo takes place in early 00s Sweden with two protagonists who are forced to work together. There’s Mikael Blomqvist who’s down on his luck. He’s a reporter for a political magazine called Millennium and he gets in severe legal trouble after writing an article exposing the financial crimes of a billionaire CEO. The other protagonist in question whom the title refers to is Lisbeth Salander. She’s a gothic hacker who wears a bunch of piercings and dons enough spiked accessories to make a goth quiver in fear. Both of them get caught in an old murder case involving the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, who’s part of a wealthy family where the main patriarch Henrik hires Mikael to solve this decades-old case.
I had no knowledge of the film series, the original novels, nor have I seen the American adaptation of this film, so this was all super fresh to me. I will say that this film did hook me early on despite most of the more intense scenes not happening until the middle of the film. Mikael’s situation does make him very sympathetic because he was just doing his job as a reporter, but he gets vilified for daring to report the truth against someone who could buy out his whole family if he wanted to. Given some stories I’ve heard about people bringing the truth out there (like Bananas!*, if you want to talk about documentaries and censorship controversies), I could find Mikael’s character to be very believable and I wanted him to succeed in this job on solving the case of Harriet Vanger. Lisbeth was a fascinating character. She’s just so cold and very tough while emoting very little most times of the film. Her hacking ability is second to none with her ability to get information is just mind-blowing. She also kicks a lot of butt and that’s not going into a scene where she literally tortures a villain. I also had this weird realization about the Lisbeth character. She’s gothic, incredibly smart, has a mostly stoic personality, and has a photographic memory. Lisbeth might actually be the grown-up, Swedish, R-rated version of Ingrid Third from Fillmore. I’m going to get sacrificed on the internet for comparing her to a cartoon protagonist from the early 00s, but she unintentionally reminded me of that character in some scenes.
The filming is great. Everything is shot in a crisp manner. I even felt cold during the wintertime scenes in the pastoral parts of rural Sweden where the Vanger family compound was. The lighting was used to masterful effect with some tunnels looking threatening at night or the harsh brightness during a torture scene against Mikael which makes it super uncomfortable looking at it which was deliberate. I found out that it cost thirteen million to finance this movie which would be the equivalent of a lower-budget Hollywood film (think dramas or romance movies), but I was quite impressed with the visual aspects of the presentation.
The mystery itself was quite intriguing. There are some clues that threw me off which was good. The plotting was more unpredictable than I expected. I also thought it was creative when some numbers were used by the victims’ names correlated to something that I never expected, but in a way that made sense given the context of the crime and prime suspects. Sure, the reveal was helped by Lisbeth’s eidetic memory skills, but the concept of the clues was great. I do confess that the suspects did rely on instant heel heat with some of the older family members (living and deceased) of the Vanger clan having ties to Swedish Nazi-sympathizing groups, but it did make more sense later on as more clues show up. I wished they wouldn’t resort to an obvious motif to make the audience hate the villains even more, but it didn’t bug me that much. This is also a very intense film to watch. The darker elements don’t show up right away, but it becomes way more prevalent during the damning parts of the Harriet Vanger case and with Lisbeth’s subplots with her history. Sure, there’s a good amount of violence, but the aspects of the crimes will chill any audience member and some of the implications that are spoken or unspoken in the film. Some of the injuries and deaths of certain characters are karmic in some of the worst ways possible. For example, Lisbeth decides to torture a rapist in some of the most brutal ways of revenge on this side of Law Abiding Citizen or even the obscure anime series Shadow Star Narutaru. She strips him, ties him up with cables from both sides of a room, kicks him down (that’s saying nothing about what she kicks inside him), and tattoos the words “I’m a sadist pig and rapist” all over his torso to finish it off. Seriously, don’t mess with this woman.
I will admit that some parts of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo could’ve been better. This film is over two and a half hours long. The first 2/3rds of the movie is decently paced, but it does meander in the final act despite all the intense action and revealed secrets involved. Those events in the last third of the movie aren’t filler since they add to the plot and character development, but it could have been paced and portrayed better. Also, Lisbeth’s reasoning for dealing with the true suspect and a correlating scene from her backstory came off as preachy despite having a defensible position. There’s even a sense of unintentional irony given Lisbeth’s backstory and the macabre family drama with all the Vangers involved. The lines become blurred when there are scenes of killing family members. Don’t get me wrong, the true suspects are total monsters for their crimes, but it does borderline on protagonist-centered morality at points even though the protagonists did fewer “bad things” compared to the villains. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo could also come off as pandering by making Lisbeth and a certain other female character play off the scorned woman angle. I’m glad they didn’t make them Mary Sues, but some of their actions would be considered villainous if men did that to women. The film can be borderline feminist-pandering, but it does stop short of those parameters.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a stunning thriller that people should check out. The cinematography is great and the acting is just spot-on. I could feel those emotions portrayed perfectly in this film. The scoring is appropriate with a mix of different genres. Some of the themes are very hardcore and some just miss the mark though with the writing. If you want to see a quality thriller or mystery movie, then you won’t be disappointed by this Swedish film.
Adjustable Point System
Add 1 point if you like violent thriller movies
Subtract 2 points if you can’t stand movies with taboo themes
-Great visuals and filming
-Amazing acting (both lead characters and the true suspect are highlights)
-Unpredictable plot twists and reveals
-Meandering plotting in the final 30 minutes of the film
-Forced villainy plot elements
-Some preachy elements in dealing with the crimes
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: This movie is definitely not for kids. The strong language is the least of the worries over there. The violence is quite intense with some cruel and unusual forms of torture that both the antagonists and protagonists participate in. There are pictures of murder victims that are quite gory and some of them include severed body parts and one victim has had their fat extracted from certain parts of their body. The biggest warning would be the usage of rape and incest as major plot points. One character is blackmailed and gets molested just to make sure that she stays on the man’s good side who has some legal capital over her and he eventually takes full sexual advantage of her in a later scene. Viewer discretion is definitely advised for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
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