The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo | Mystery | rated R (A, L, N, S, V, RP) | starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Nygvist | in Swedish with English subtitles | 2:32 mins
Found guilty of libel, a publically disgraced newspaper reporter (Michael Nygvist) is summoned to a remote island to solve a 40-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of the daughter of the Vanger corporation’s wealthy owner. He gets some unlikely help in a computer hacker named Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) who actually helped bring him down and still has access to his computer files. Lisbeth herself is something of an enigma, a foster child with a mysterious and violent past. As the two stumble on a string of ritualistic religious murders things become more dangerous for them.
Contemporary movies of the crime & mystery genre face an unfair and somewhat insoluble problem. TV is a gluttonous monster when it comes to mysteries, from CSI to Law & Order to The Closer and just about everything else you can think of, there are few murder mystery stories that haven’t been done in a one hour format. A mystery now has to take it up to the next level – be a cinematic event – to not feel like something you can see on TV. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo almost does that. Almost. While the underlying solution is nothing more surprising than anything you’d see on TV, the movie takes full advantage of its almost 2 ½ hour length to immerse us in a procedural with just enough original bits and compelling characters to keep it engaging. In short, Girl is more TV series mystery than movie mystery, but it’s an uncommonly good one.
Girl has a leisurely paced roll out. It’s a character drama and a procedural. Some of those procedural research scenes reminded me of Seven so it may not be a stretch to declare Girl the best procedural since David Fincher’s thriller. Fitting (and redundant) given that Fincher is set to direct the American version of Steig Larson’s novel for which this is based. This is classic mystery novel stuff here. The suspects: a rogue’s gallery of nearly everyone in a 40-year-old family portrait. The case: taking our reporter from witness to witness putting old photographs together to get a 360 degree view of the incident. The villains: Nazis and religious zealots who carry out the bible’s recommendations to stone and murder women.
The original Sweedish title literally translates to “Men Who Hate Women”, a far-from-subtle reference to the outrageous misogyny on parade by the characters here. Lisbeth is cast like a mysterious arc angel fighting back against a sea of hateful men around her. Reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Nygvist) is the one good guy whom she finds she can work with, if not trust. At least enough to have sex with.
The movie is a technically crisp piece of work. Looks great. Sounds great. Is well acted. It is quite a feat to make those scenes of pouring through paperwork or searching through websites entertaining, but Girl pulls this off. I appreciated its pacing which took time to unfold the details of its world. One little thing it does lack? The movie fails to give us is that invigorating “ah ha” moment that makes mysteries so addicting. That moment when the last piece of the puzzle falls into place and we’ve solved it one second before the characters. When the ending comes here it is theatrically outrageous, but not surprising and possibly obvious. And as A+ as your set-up may be, a movie mystery’s identity is entirely carved out with the originality of its solution. Girl is satisfying, but falls just short of that for me.
Overall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a rock solid mystery. It also kind of feels like two different movies that don’t quite come together. A reporter seeking redemption by finding a missing girl and that of the girl with the dragon tattoo, a genius hacker who bounces around foster guardiance, whose past and true identity remains a mystery as this film closes. She has the moxy to get revenge on a sadistic caretaker (the movie’s and Rapace’s best scene) and is a brilliant computer hacker, but otherwise doesn’t seem like the wild card you might expect given the film is titled after her. She is less a real character and more a thorny force to bounce off of Mikael. It’s a potentially thrilling odd-couple dynamic, but once they get together and the procedural kicks on those requirements force them to conform to it instead of letting their personalities enliven the story. Given that this is only part one of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy I can only imagine Lisbeth is set up as something of a modern day, butt-kicking, Sherlock Holmes vixen. But she is more often a side-element of this story, suggesting whatever makes her such a unique heroine is yet to be seen.