Film | Sunday, 23 May 2010

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Superlative neo-noir from up north

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – whose original title is the far more intriguing Men Who Hate Women – is the first in the ‘Millenium’ trilogy of novels by late journalist Stieg Larsson, whose death in 2004 sadly prevented him from reaping the popularity and financial benefits that the three novels propelled into motion, selling over 7 million copies internationally. As most of these things go, it’s all relatively familiar fare: an unconventional and largely improvised detective team tackle a conspiracy of evil festering for years in society’s upper echelons. But this adaptation, brought to life at the helm of Danish director Niels Arden Oplev has an undeniable – if rough-edged – appeal that will probably be absent from the proposed Hollywood remake.
Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger (Julia Sporre) disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) is convinced that she was murdered and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and the tattooed, ruthless computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders dating back nearly forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vanger’s are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.
While Mikael is presented as a protagonist from the start, it is Lisbeth who ultimately wins us over. On paper, she sounds dangerously close to being a cliché: a hooded, goth-hacker who wouldn’t look out of place in the The Matrix trilogy, her mysterious (but definitely abuse-ridden) past and her reluctance to take any bullshit make her an all-too-perfect fit into the Anti-Heroine hall of fame. But whereas she could easily have been a grittier, earth-bound version of Carrie Ann Moss’ Trinity, Rapace infuses her with a nervy grace. Volatile and violent, but with a strong sense of justice and a vengeful streak, she is precisely what the hounded journalist needs to tip the scales in his favour.
One of the turnoffs of a complex mystery-thriller is always the vertiginous, often hard-to-follow plot. The sprawling source novels, penned by a journalist with none-too-subtle similarities to our protagonist, are a worrying omen: will the narrative be submerged under a barrage of facts, faceless names and political cover up, cross and double-cross that’s relayed to the viewer at a second-hand remove? Well, there is some of that, as per necessity for the genre. But the leisurely running time, which could easily have been an impediment, lets the details simmer in the brain nicely, while the more primal lobes are allowed to enjoy the simmering sexual chemistry between the leads, and the outbursts of uncompromising violence which, while reprehensible on a humane level, is largely dished out to neo-Nazis and sadistic perverts... which makes it all OK.
The Hollywood remake may very well already be in the works, but I, for one, am looking forward to the already-made adaptations of the latter two books in the trilogy: The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest – both due for international release later this year.

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