The second film on this list with ‘dragon’ in the title (#2 on Ghe Best of 2010 is How to Train Your Dragon), it’s always good to see a film that carries an extraordinary amount of weight to its storytelling, its performances, and its overall vision. The original Swedish film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is such. Director Niels Arden Oplev delivers a complex web of investigative intrigue, a journey into human ugliness, and a scathing examination of old, personal wounds. Not only is the film an outstanding mystery and suspense-thriller, it also is a vivid portrait of people affected by a history of violent crimes.
The titular character, though not directly involved with the film’s center plot of murder, is a victim of several brutal assaults. She is an enigma of a girl, decked out in gothic makeup, taut leather, and intimidating noserings. This girl, named Lisbeth Salander (played by confident phenomenon, Noomi Repace), does not allow anyone to push her around. She is a hacker by profession and has a rather unusual fixation on a reporter named Mikael Blomkvist (portrayed with courageous goodliness by Michael Nyqvist). He, on the other hand, has lived a pretty conventional life, which is only shaken up by articles that have gone wrong and investigations that have turned sour. Soon their paths cross during an investigation of a woman, declared dead, who disappeared 40 years ago. What they discover will challenge their limitations, their strength, and their perceptions on everything. Taking a lot of inspiration from David Fincher (who fatefully has directed the American remake of this film), Niels Arden Oplev surrounds his characters with a greenish, sewer-like tinge that reveals the seedier, ranker version of everyday life in Sweden.
More often than not, the film feels a lot more like a visualized novel than a mere movie, and that has a lot to do with Oplev’s attention to realistic detail. The novel has various planted subplots that pay off moments later in the film and later in the subsequent sequels, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (however, those films feel less poignant overall). Since Oplev is comfortable in the confines of humanized reality, the film feels more like a window that is opened to explore life more than beginning-middle-end structuring or basic screenwriting design. A film, like this, needs to be experienced for its uncanny ability to make you feel like you are experiencing its mammoth plays on life.