In 1966, 16-year old Harriet Vanger disappeared without a trace from a family gathering on the island owned by the powerful Vanger family. Nearly 40 years later, disgraced magazine journalist Mikael Blomqvist is contacted by Harriet's uncle, powerful industrialist Henrik Vanger, who asks him to write the history of the Vanger family and find out what happened to Harriet. Joining forces with troubled young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Mikael starts to delve into the past of the Vanger family – and unearths a history more sinister and violent than he could ever have imagined.
'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is only the first part of a trilogy that already made its rounds in other parts of the globe last year. In the U.S., the movies are being released a few months apart, with the last in the series expected later this year. Adapted from the posthumously published novels of Stieg Larsson, known as the Millennium Trilogy, the connection between each film is the partnership of two polar opposites with highly inquisitive, sometimes dangerous minds. Although their rapport is of great interest to the story, it's the circumstances which bring them together that are the focus of the plot. And at the heart of this brilliantly structured thriller, their methodology and tenacious attitude for uncovering the truth is what ultimately grabs and holds our attention.
After losing a high-profile libel case against a corrupt businessman, middle-aged journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) tries to deal with the possibility of a shattered career. Before serving his three-month jail sentence, he is offered a job by major industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube). Seeing this as a chance at redemption, Blomkvist agrees to solve the 40-year-old murder case of Henrik's niece, Harriett. Although he's made some minor progress, Blomkvist is stumped by one final clue in the girl's journal: a series of names and numbers. Interested by the case, computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who had previously been hired to investigate Blomkvist, provides the missing pieces via email. Impressed, Blomkvist proposes she assist him. Together, they unearth a secret far more sinister and disturbing within the ranks of the Vanger family.
'Dragon Tattoo' is a deceptively intelligent film with an intricate detective story at its surface. The film is essentially a crime drama with elements of a police procedural — a murder mystery of the old-fashioned type reminiscent of classic Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. Granted, Blomkvist lacks the hard-boiled cheekiness of Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade, but Nyqvist is excellent in the role, demonstrating that the down-on-his-luck journalist at least shares in the philosophies of those characters. He continues to dig deeper, even when confronted with threats as the unsolved case turns up other disconcerting factors. What starts as a simple assignment for personal gain suddenly turns into a crusade of social justice, and the film evolves into a commentary on the state of contemporary capitalist societies.
Determining the identity of the killer is not as important as the terrifying reasons behind the crime and a serial murder spree spanning five decades. As if returning public credibility and integrity to investigative journalism, which is not too farfetched considering Larsson's background, we become fascinated by each clue and revelation. From unethical business practices to questions of nature versus nurture, 'Dragon Tattoo' is really an exploration into various themes, particularly the issue of violence against women. This is made more apparent when we consider the original title: 'Men Who Hate Women.' True journalism, as far as the plot is concerned, is in exposing the immoral deeds of others. The film even mentions Blomkvist as "the last bastion of journalism with ideals."
With this in mind, our main attraction to the entire story also comes into view. Lisbeth is a fascinating and complex character, and Rapace is superb in her portrayal of a highly intelligent but emotionally damaged woman. She delivers such intense and passionate stares which negotiate the vulnerable fragility of a girl and the fierce, defensive anger of a feminine warrior. She functions as a sharp contrast to a world of power and corruption, a world dominated by a class looking for every opportunity to take advantage of the weak. Despite her intimidating exterior, which immediately identifies her as an outcast, she is a severe combatant of justice, capable of vengeful vigilantism in an effort to rid society of all the evil. Lisbeth is a terrific foil to Blomkvist.
As a murder mystery, 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' will likely be a daunting task for most. But for those willing to sit until the end credits, the film offers a rewarding experience, an intelligent crime drama that seems so incredibly rare these days. It's a greatly absorbing thriller with a classic style for suspense and a cast of characters we can care for. Don't wait for the rumored U.S. remake, this is well worth your time!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Music Box Films and is housed in a standard blue keepcase. At startup, the Region Free, BD25 disc shows a series of skippable previews (listed in the special features) before arriving at the typical set of menu options.
'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' debuts on Blu-ray with a highly detailed picture, showing many moments of impressive demo-worthy scenes. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) is incredibly sharp, with resolute, distinct lines of various objects in the foreground as well as in the background.
Exterior shots of the Swedish landscape are most striking, displaying excellent definition in foliage and the aged architecture. Even in poorly-lit interiors, the finer details hardly falter. Facial complexions are remarkable, revealing wonderful lifelike texture and appearing appropriate for the cold climate. Contrast is spot-on, providing terrific visibility of the distant mountains. There are some instances, however, where the crisp whites come off a bit too strong and the picture is poorly resolved. It's not a huge detriment to the overall quality, but it does bring the presentation down a notch. Blacks are beautifully rendered and intense, with the exception of a few indoor scenes at night where brightness is noticeably weaker. The palette is mostly subdued, adding to the cold, chilly atmosphere, but accurate and dramatic nonetheless. In general, the tone and hue of the photography changes depending on where the conversation takes place: indoor scenes are warm and inviting, while exteriors are icy white and steely blue. All things considered, this is an excellent-looking transfer for a very good thriller.
On a side note, the subtitles accompanying the picture are contained within the image proper, as they should be, making the film safe for viewing on Constant Image Height projection screens.
For the audio portion of this Blu-ray disc, Music Box Films deemed it only necessary to offer two lossy Dolby Digital soundtracks for fans: one in the native Swedish and the other an English dub.
Although not having the option for a higher-resolution codec is a bit hurtful, the sound quality presented is not all that bad. Seeing as how 'Dragon Tattoo' is driven by character interaction, vocals are terrifically and cleanly delivered in the center of the screen. The front-heavy presentation also shows great movement between the channels, creating an attractive and engaging image with a wide, sharp mid-range. The LFE-channel is not really used extensively, but low bass is present to add a bit of weight when called upon. Once in a while, we can catch certain ambient effects spread into the rears, but they're ultimately unconvincing and easily localized. The musical score has better luck in extending the soundfield with subtle, pleasant bleeds.
Although a lossless mix would've been preferred, 'Dragon Tattoo' still sounds good on Blu-ray.
For such an entertaining film, the bonus content on this Blu-ray edition of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' feels greatly lacking, if not grossly unjust.
'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is the sort of dark and suspenseful crime thriller we don't see often enough, one with a classical feel to it where we take part in unraveling the mystery. Beneath the graphic violence and likeable main characters (especially Rapace's superb performance as Lisbeth), 'Dragon Tattoo' has a truly engrossing and intelligent narrative. The Blu-ray from Music Box Films arrives with an excellent video presentation, but audio options are limited to legacy codecs, while supplements are also disappointing. Although fans are sure to pick this up (and should), others are encouraged to give this Swedish gem a watch. Recommended.