Whatever the hell Hollywood is thinking, remaking Stieg Larsson’s Swedish literary blockbuster The Millennium Trilogy, the word is already out – it would take a sizeable lot of Hollywood creative workforce and sheer genius to outshine this original Swedish version. As remakes now go, the American industry has lately been noticed picking up modern celluloid from the Swede home turf, no matter how exceptional they already are (the superb Let The Right One In now has a Hollywood version in the can, equipped for lazy Americans who either cannot be bothered to read or just plain illiterate). This follows that ill-advised route, and despite the David Fincher-Carey Mulligan electric combination as director-and-star partnership, there’s no doubting that Fincher and Mulligan have a touchstone to live up to.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the opener of the three-part series, is an astonishingly dark cocktail of crime-mystery, whodunit detective thriller, Swedish miserablism, socio-political psychosis and psychological exploration. Above all, it has a prime protagonist who is more ingenuously fascinating than the story itself, a savagely intense heroine compelled to solve a crime only to uncover a deeper moral darkness in society whilst facing her own personal past. Not since Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde and Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs had there been a crime-film heroine so justifiably complex, and not since Nikita and Mathilda Lando inLéon: The Professional had there been a character so startlingly vengeful. Lisbeth Salander is a walking mystery herself – she’s part-Goth, part-waif, dressed in black leather supposedly designed for S&M antics, as heavily pierced and tattooed as a punk-rocker and face daubed thickly with kohl that could make Marilyn Manson blush. Sexually ambiguous and a social outsider, her mind burns with rage, making use of her canny intelligence to plot vindictive revenge on her sexually abusive guardian and her resourcefulness to swipe at any motherfucker who touches her. And actress Noomi Rapace plays her compellingly that Salander is not all about simmering looks and tough biker-chick – there are incredibly poignant moments in which Rapace subtly lets vulnerability touch Salander’s surface, her personal pain of her childhood past and the seemingly eternal anguish that haunts her follow through momentary flashbacks throughout the film.
For a lengthy running time for over two hours, there’s never a dull scene, despite of an unfussy, flowy camerawork. Director Arden Oplev does not employ showy cinematography, although crisply shot, and makes sure this film is about story and substance. There’s also another main character to deal with, exiled journalist Mikael who works for a liberal magazine called Millennium, stripping bare society’s darkest evils such as corruption and political fervour, and Salander’s pseudo-partner in a crime investigation of a 40-year old unsolved mystery. The plot may ring familiar at first, a vanished girl in a faraway town conjures Agatha Christie and Twin Peaks, but this has bigger resonance that touch on the origin of evils in European history, political misdirection, Nazism, misogyny, illegal prostitution and human trafficking. As you watch the mystery unfolds unhurriedly and gracefully, you’d somehow feel at the end that this abyss of society has got to be stopped and we’re rooting for Lisbeth Salander to unleash her wrath on these evils.
A riveting, complex and taut crime-mystery that solidly opens the Millennium Trilogy, with a magnificently created heroine that burns into the mind long after the film ends. Rarely has there been a literary adaptation that deftly mixes blockbuster brio with a character-driven sensibility, casting an unflinching look into a dark moral abyss of our society. Consider the forthcoming Hollywood remake look like a waxwork next to this Swedish original.