Great thrillers are such a rare phenomenon. Ones which don't use science fiction or the supernatural are even rarer. These are films that horrify you simply by providing a glimpse of the dark side of human nature; play with you psychologically and keep you guessing till the very end. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one such film. It blends a classic mystery with a distinct visual style and some horrific violence resulting in the best and most unsettling thriller I have seen in many years.
The story is about Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative reporter who faces a jail sentence after losing a libel suit to a major industrial tycoon. With 6 months to go before he has to serve his sentence, he receives a call from the lawyer of a corporate giant, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) for a meeting. Vanger offers him a handsome fee to conduct one final investigation into the 40 year old murder of his niece Hariet Vanger (Julia Sporre). Unbeknown to him, his actions are being watched by a professional hacker Lisbeth (Noomie Rapace), a highly enigmatic girl with heavy tattooing and many piercings with a dark past filled with acts of bizarre violence. She is on probation for a crime herself and has a guardian (Peter Andersson) with a penchant for sexual deviance. What starts out as a dead end investigation soon develops into a highly dangerous situation, threatening to expose old, but explosive secrets of the Vanger family. And the highly dysfunctional Vanger family likes to keep its secrets buried.
The story is rich in detail. Although conventional in some ways, the screenplay is tight, maintains the tension throughout and successfully holds the audience's attention its sprawling 152 minute run time. It takes its time to establish the settings and the characters. In this process, it becomes a painful, horrific depiction of the twisted nature of the human mind, though not a deep psychological study of it. The real strength of the film lies in its characterization. The movie takes its time to establish its principal characters and especially in Lisbeth, gives us the most interesting movie character in years. It is this character which elevates the film to dizzying heights and more importantly, transcends it. There is so much potential in this character that she alone is enough to make me watch the remainder of the trilogy. Noomi Rapace plays the character to perfection finding the right mix of feminine allure, hostility, pain, anger, melancholy and mystery. It is a difficult character and Rapace does complete justice to it. In every step of the way, she is complimented by an excellent Michael Nyqvist as the diffident journalist with complications of his own.
In addition to the characterization, it is the production style of the film that struck me the most. The visuals of Sweden with its frost and snow is soaked in dread, melancholy and a sense of impending doom. With its equally frosty supporting characters, the visual style helps set the tone for the film. The background score is atmospheric and effective in creating that sense of horror and tension. The scenes of violence, rape, bondage are thoroughly harrowing in their relentlessness. The flashback sequences for Lisbeth left me thoroughly mind-fucked, pardon the expression. The rape scene is perhaps the most disturbing I have seen since the rape scene in Irreversible. Despite the (relatively) limited nudity, the brutality of these moments will truly make you squirm in your seat.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a terrific adult thriller. It is sombre, moody and has moments of incredible brutality. It is also has a tight story that keeps you guessing till the very end despite employing all the conventions in the book. But above all, it has a terrific central character who you will not forget easily, even long after you have left that dark cinema hall. Treat yourself to this one. You will be doing yourself a favour. Trust me.
P.S.: A Hollywood remake of the film is in the making. David Fincher is set to direct and Daniel Craig will play the role of Blomkvist. I, for the life of me, cannot imagine anyone playing the role of Lisbeth as well as needed. The only close choices that come to mind are Kristen Stewart and Carey Mulligan. What do you think?