Spontaneous flick. No clue. Had free passes. Went to see it. Boot to the head.
I don't like foreign films. Most of the time they are a pretense for Americans to be somebody else that they don't generally have the courage to be f2f. Foreign films are like Cancun, exotic for the sake of providing a jumping-out-of-one's-own-skin experience - letting something all hang out. That's most of the time. Everybody who watches foreign films knows this - they are the kinds of flicks that the Hollywood crowd does not, and mostly cannot make. They thus become the generic 'alternative', and alternative is not always good. So I'm skeptical of foreign films that make it to our screens, and I sorta wish that especially for the genre of short films of exceptional quality, Netflix or somebody ought to have a subscription service. But all that's another subject.
There was a time, of course, when anything by Tarkovsky, Almodovar or Kurosawa would have me running to the box office at breakneck speed. So my impressions are not just armchair.
Dragon Tattoo is a drastic and superb film that is like 'The Sacrifice' meets 'La Femme Nikita' meets 'Seven'. It is bleak and bloodlessly acted. It is not entertaining, rather it is crafted to be one of those oddly compelling and disturbing experiences that serve to remind you of how awful men can be. In particular it's men because there are no villainous women here. There are only the three types of women in the film. Those who are destroyed by men and run away. Those who are destroyed by men and lose their minds, and those who are destroyed by men, refuse to be destroyed and take their revenge. The Girl is a victim of the third kind in a world where justice is an illusion and the righteous have no quarter.
To take it as a premise that you need some extraordinary kind of Girl to be the protagonist in this modern thriller, much of that subtle posturing can be de-emphasized. For this Girl is a new kind of heroine, a combination I've not seen. She is one who, like an extreme version of Batman, is an emotional black hole, presenting an impenetrable mask which accentuates her black leather and steel exterior. She is an extraordinary hacker, and finds her way, almost reluctantly into a mystery of epic proportions.
In an extraordinary way, this Girl is the answer to what I despised about The Constant Gardener's female protagonist whose civilized charms made her duplicitous seductions merely inconvenient. The Girl doesn't 'suit up' for Mata Hari work. She keeps her distance. The distance has been overcome by a number of brutes, and she shows the pain of it, but she has no intention to use any feminine wiles with anyone but the female of the species.
The story is that of a crusading journalist who is to be jailed for libel against the CEO of a global conglomerate. His muckraking magazine must live down its failure as he awaits his prison sentence. He is contacted by the aging patriarch of another powerful family concern who is trying a last desperate attempt to solve the mysterious disappearance of his favorite niece 35 years ago. He suspects foul play and any and all of his heirs are suspects. They are the scions of old money and they have become a pack of inheritance hyena.
The Girl works as a cyber private eye. She is punk and slim. Not enough meat on her bones to be an uberchick like Trinity. Not enough trust in her heart to be a rescuer/defender like Angela Bassett in Strange Days. But more than enough steel in her spine and ice in her gaze to use her tools for vengeance. She was previously contracted by the global conglomerate to hack the journalist. She knows he was setup. Now she follows his computer as he gets his new assignment - the assignment of finding the lost niece. In a single act of charity she breaks the firewall, revealing the fact that she has hacked him, in order to send him the answer to a clue he found in the lost girl's diary. The two become partners in solving a mystery that gets deeper and darker.
Dragon Tattoo has something of a cruel and sadistic eye. Few details are spared. As we come to know the Girl, that which would in any American film be understood as a dirty arrangement would be understated. She has something in her past which her parole officer exploits for the sake of his own sexual gratification. But instead of insinuation, we are treated to the full brutality of rape. There are multiple rapes in this film, but we come to know that the Girl meets fury with fury in a revenge scene so vicious that it squeezes all of the delight out of the rapist's just deserts. It feels like something out of the pages of Dick Marcinko, a heavy dose of Old Testament justice.
Old Testament justice is what's going on. Epic retribution. And looking at this Swedish film, I can't help but wonder if it says something enduring about the Swedes and the way they look at themselves. Moreover I take it that this film says a lot about Europe's current crisis of confidence. Let's be clear about it. There are old Nazis in this powerful family and the disappearance of the patriarch's niece turns out to be connected to a string of brutal murders of women over several decades. This is the a story built against subtext of European money and power - an almost untouchable display of power and privilege that protects some people whose moral integrity has the consistency and flavor of a bag of pig intestines. You cannot watch Dragon Tattoo and not feel that sense that nothing about the civilization can stand the sort of corruption it bears - that if this is what goes on behind the scenes, no one is safe.
This movie is only satisfying at a distance, for once you get away from the hideousness of its explicitly graphic scenes, its matter of fact approach to such grisly subjects gives it the weight of literature. It is not an entertainment. It is an intervention, a brusque lecture, it is a fire you are not pulled from.
Greatly, the Girl, at the age of 24 uses the tool of the 21st Century to expose the crimes of the 20th. There is a collaboration between the magazine man and the cybergirl that neither of them singly could have handled. Theirs is an unlikely alliance, but there's something fabulous about it that doesn't need explaining. I highly recommend this film for the not-squeamish. Now is a good time to think about how Europeans think about themselves.