SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 14, 2010
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writer(s): Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay), Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay), Stieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Lena Endre, Peter Haber
Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqysit), an aging political journalist for the magazine Millennium, has just lost a libel case brought by a Swedish industrialist named Hans-Erik Wennerström (Stefan Sauk). Mikael, with six months of freedom to enjoy prior to his prison term, is forced to take a leave of absence from the publishing world but is promptly courted by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) in order to solve a 40-year old cold case – the disappearance of Vanger’s 16-year old niece, Harriet (Ewa Fröling/Julia Sporre).
Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is a computer hacker with a penchant for black leather, piercings and tattoos (including the titular one). Thanks to a checkered (violent) past, Lisbeth has a court-ordered guardian controlling her money. Her newest guardian forces her to give him a blow job in exchange for some of her money, eventually the ante is upped to a full-fledged violent rape. Lisbeth comes prepared with a hidden camera, so she videotapes the entire ordeal in order to blackmail her guardian into giving her full access to her bank account (she needs to buy a new computer after a few thugs beat her up in the underground).
Lisbeth’s most recent hacking assignment concerns Blomkvist – and this fatefully intertwines the two characters. After Lisbeth anonymously nudges Mikael along (with a tip to some biblical passages that are linked to mysterious numbers that prove to be keys to solving Harriet’s case), Mikael tracks Lisbeth down and enlists her to join him at the Vanger estate in Hedestad to order to assist him with his assignment. Lisbeth’s photographic memory, logic and hacker skills help speed Mikael’s case along; but as they get closer to the truth, Mikael and Lisbeth find their lives are at risk. From here I will just say that the Vanger family (none of whom seem to like Henrik) – with three ex-Nazis in their ranks – is not to be reckoned with. The Vangers have some skeletons in their closets, and they do not take well to people like Mikael and Lisbeth snooping around their past or present affairs.
I have to admit that I came into this screening totally blind. I knew it was based on a novel of the same title by Swedish author Stieg Larsson and that is about it. I left the screening pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the narrative. The pacing and structure utilized by director Niels Arden Oplev is very effective. There are plenty of perfectly crafted thrilling moments, as well as perfectly sufficient character development. I think the biggest challenge with this story is to tell Lisbeth’s back story without seeming too forced or trite and Oplev pulls that off rather well too.
However, I was very turned off by the sexual violence (a reaction I heard from much of the SXSW audience), but I do understand that it is a necessary component of the story. I just do not think that the filmed acts had to be quite so graphically violent. (I was not surprised at all to learn that one of the alternate titles for this film is Millennium: Part 1 – Men Who Hate Women, I could not think of a more perfect title.)