While The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow has spent these many decades pursuing obsessions linked to warped macho attitudes from a female point of view, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in a playful yet scary gender subversion, imagines male behavioral conventions in movies but as enacted by a female instead. And the result is creepier than you can ever imagine. We’re talking a ballsier than thou babe who really knows how to rescue her timid man from danger, and doesn’t think twice about dealing with a serial sexual predator, by raping him right back.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is based on the first of three unpublished novels that form the Millennium Trilogy, by the late Swedish author, Stieg Larsson. Who in an extreme case of life imitating art that could have been penned from his own hand for one of his cult thrillers, died suddenly just before the first novel, originally titled Men Who Hate Women, was published. And which after his death elevated Larsson to the second best selling writer last year for the book on which this film is based, and to 2009’s highest grossing movie in Europe.
Michael Nyqvist is Mikael in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a muckraker journalist who is framed and convicted after exposing unscrupulous Swedish business conglomerates. While awaiting the date he’s scheduled to turn himself in for a short prison term, the glum reporter agrees to be hired by another wealthy tycoon, because he could use the money to pay the court damages. Henrik (Sven-Bertil Taube) wants Mikael to look into the vanishing of his teenage niece years ago. And he suspects members of his own financially notorious Vanger family, implicated themselves in Third World drug trafficking and gun running, of possible complicity in the girl’s disappearance.
At the same time, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), a brash young goth gumshoe with the dragon tattoo in question running down her posterior, takes an interest in Mikael’s widely publicized plight. And she begins stalking him, when not dodging a lecherous, depraved legal guardian. Eventually the pair become partners and then lovers, discovering a lot more about the deviant behavior of that elite clan than they might ever care to know.
Though it’s mentioned in passing that the Vangers harbored within their family many right wing fanatics and former Nazis, this political thrust figuring in the book and in fact Larsson’s own tragic life, is reduced to barely a dramatic footnote. Instead, a kind of tabloid cinema emphasis is placed on linking sexual perversion and worse, to financial corruption among the elites. And while Larsson himself devoted his life to uncovering economic conspiracies at the highest levels, and may have paid the price. A reporter for the Swedish Communist Workers League newspaper and an ardent left activist, Larsson was stalked, hounded, and threatened with death by right wing extremists. And forced into hiding under such stressful conditions, that he succumbed to a massive heart attack and died suddenly in 2004 at the age of fifty.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a tense, engaging thriller with a highly unusual, icy and temperamental female protagonist at its center. The problem here is that she tends to be more fascinating than anything else going on, and the tossing together of a tepid, lurid mystery with the more potent enigma of the masculinization of a profoundly sexually damaged female psyche, is an odd combination that never quite gels. On a surprising side note, prisons in Sweden seem quite inviting, more like comfy college dorms designed for reflection and redemption, than the draconian retaliatory US version.
Music Box Films
2 1/2 stars