Gloomy and mysterious, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo successfully breaks free from the typical “conspiracy film” conventions thanks to the artistic vision of director Niels Alden Oplev. He expertly throws his audience off the trail in this elaborate mystery by tossing stellar characters, shadowy scenery, and action-packed intrigue into the mix.
The film quickly establishes the plot: Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist for Millennium Magazine in Sweden, and has recently been declared guilty in a slander trial against a wealthy businessman. Outside the courthouse, a girl lies in wait, paid to follow and investigate Blomkvist. The girl, Lisbeth Salander, is an unconventional heroine, decked out in all black, complete with nose rings and a spiky collar. She has been hired by Henrik Vanger, an elderly man trying to solve the mystery of his niece Harriet’s disappearance 40 years ago.
The actors take the fresh, captivating material they are given and manage to make it even more exciting. The most successful of the bunch is Noomi Rapace, whose performance as Lisbeth is absolutely sensational. We are given little insight into her background save for a flashback where she is seen setting an unknown man on fire. That immundation aside, Rapace has a fiery disposition, bringing passion and ferocity to the character. When confronted by thugs in a subway station, it’s easy to sense the anger and intensity that she feels as she fights back. When her caretaker sexually assaults her, the look of anguish on her face is heartbreaking, and when she exacts her revenge later in the movie, her eyes glitter with terrifying rage. Michael Nyqvist, a perfectly adequate actor, plays her counterpart, Blomkvist. His individual scenes are nothing to write home about, but whenever Oplev puts the two of them together, the screen brightens. Their chemistry is fantastic, and, unlike other “buddy pictures” out there, there are no cliches or divides between the two. They play off each other with poise and fervor.
The most intriguing part of the film is the setting itself. Oplev filmed Finland in its worst possible lighting. The whole film frames the country as a barren, unforgiving wasteland with nothing but dead trees and fog. This technique expertly reflects the theme of the film, emphasizing the loneliness and emptiness that surrounds all of the main characters. All the scenes filmed on the Vanger estate are stunning – the massive lake, the towering trees, and the mansions all add to the mystery swirling around the puzzling family. The only scene that falls flat is a chase scene between one of the Vangers and Lisbeth, which is unintentionally hilarious due to its similarities with the recent Tiger Woods scandal. It features Lisbeth chaotically chasing her target, swinging at his car and shattering the windows with a golf club. It garners a few chuckles, but Oplev masterfully and quickly sets the movie back on the rails as it heads for a gripping conclusion. The film adeptly sets up the possibility of a sequel, one that has already been filmed and is on the fast track to being released in the United States. Start lining up now, because when word spreads about this magnificent film, the sequel is sure to be a huge draw.