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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo(2009)
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.
For more about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray release, see the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on July 10, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Peter Haber, Lena Endre, Marika Lagercrantz, David Dencik
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
» See full cast & crew
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray Review
Otherwise known as "Men Who Hate Women".
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, July 10, 2010
Based on the bestselling novel by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, Män som hatar kvinnor (also known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is the first of three films in the "Millennium Trilogy". For those unfamiliar with Larsson's history, he was a journalist who turned to novelizations in his late career, building the construct of his "Millennium" novels around social observations and his own personal political convictions. Well known for his outspoken opposition to racism and extremists in the far right, Larsson lived much of his later life in a shroud of secrecy, ending with his death from a heart attack at age 50. The "Millennium Trilogy" was released in piece-meal succession between 2005 and 2007, gaining widespread critical acclaim, and earning numerous literary awards along the way. Naturally, the screen rights were soon picked up for a Swedish production with immense anticipation attached to the project. The end result is more than just an entertaining introduction into Swedish filmmaking it's one of the finest cinematic mystery adaptations of the past decade.
Following a wrongful conviction for defamation, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is summoned to the estate of aging millionaire Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the former head of the Vanger Corporation. Knowing Mikael has six months before serving the prison sentence recently handed to him, Henrik offers a deal to the investigative journalist that is simply too intriguing to pass up. According to Henrik, Mikael use to visit his father (an employee of Vanger) at the Henrik's estate during the summers of his youth. While there, he was babysat by Henrik's neice, Harriet (Julia Sporre), who the industrialist viewed as the closest thing he had to a daughter. During the summer of 1966, Harriet travelled to the mainland (the Vanger estate is located on a small island) to attend a festival known as Children's Day. Later that afternoon, there was a huge accident on the only bridge back to the island, closing any access on and off the island for a substantial portion of the day. At some point between the parade attended by Harriet and nightfall, Henrik believes someone killed young Harriet and disposed of her body. The police were never able to make much progress in their investigation of her disappearance, but given the constant family power struggle over the Vanger fortune, and the convenient timing of a family reunion the weekend she disappeared, Henrik believes the responsible party is a member of the Vanger lineage. This theory is compounded by Henrik's receipt of a framed flower each year since 1967, mirroring the annual gift Henrik received from Harriet in her youth (a clue he believes to be known only within the family).
Naturally, the history of Harriet's disappearance is too interesting for Mikael's investigative mind to pass up (I'm sure the financial incentives help), as he accepts Henrik's plea for one last stab at closure. Assisted in his investigation by a 24-year-old computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), Mikael follows a trail of breadcrumbs that lead into the deepest recesses of the human psyche, revealing dark secrets around every corner.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of those rare cinematic treats that completely caught me by surprise. Approaching this review, I'd only heard rumblings about the film adaptation, which I presume is largely faithful to Larsson's original novel (given the glowing assessment of the screen production among fans of the original story). I wish I'd acquired a base of reference to compare the international bestseller to the storyline offered here, but since I've never taken the opportunity to dig into the novel, I'll simply address the film on its own merit alone.
As you can tell from the synopsis above, there's a wonderful undercurrent of mystery to be found in the basic investigation the film is built around. However, what's difficult to convey in a discussion of the story is the depth of layering found in each character that populates this journey of discovery. Despite my glossed-over inclusion of young Lisbeth in the synopsis, her character is one of the primary strengths in the shaping of the story, lending significant emotional weight to events that occur later on in the film. Her violent upbringing and continued abuse at the hands of monstrous men have cast the world around her in black and white, forcing her to develop a shell that's difficult to crack. When Mikael enters the picture and requests her help in his investigation, there's a distinct period of time when she's gradually feeling him out, fearfully expecting him to turn into another monster (thereby continuing the cycle). As the film goes on, the relationship develops into an odd mix of arm-distance chemistry, with both parties struggling over old wounds that never quite healed. Whichever way you choose to look at the film (character-driven or investigation-focused), the multi-faceted approach in keeping the audience entertained is a tremendous selling point.
Without divulging too much about the investigation at the heart of the story (for the record, the synopsis listed above includes information you'll know within the first 20 minutes), I'm compelled to briefly touch on the delivery of clues and how they play a role in making this such a memorable experience. In my younger days, I recall watching countless Agatha Christie films (Death on the Nile was always my favorite), and adored the manner in which various clues were eventually pieced together in the closing minutes of the film. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes a different approach, by setting up a new mystery as each clue is divulged. For every "ah ha!" moment between the two lead protagonists, we're provided an equally satisfying sense of head-scratching fun. In this manner, director Niels Arden Oplev wraps the audience around his finger, stringing us along just long enough to set up the next revelation.
It's difficult to discuss the strengths of the film without also bestowing extensive credit on the cast. Noomi Rapace does an excellent job tackling incredibly difficult subject matter in her role as Lisbeth, bringing a true sense of depth to the character. Appearing tough on the outside yet damaged to the core, Rapace never falters in her ability to breathe life into each scene, often saying more through her facial expressions than words. Ranking at a close second to the fine performance from Rapace, we have Michael Nyqvist as journalist Mikael Blomkvist. His role isn't nearly as demanding as his co-star, but he still delivers a commanding performance when needed, and builds necessary chemistry through his gentle demeanor. You can always tell there's a certain intensity lying just under the surface, but it's that sense of restraint that lends an endearing quality to his character.
As a word of warning, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo contains an extremely violent rape scene that some viewers may find difficult to watch. I personally didn't find it sensationalistic within the context of the plot, and consider it a key element in establishing motivations and character-elements later in the film, but I recognize it may bother some members of the audience enough to be a deal-breaker. I'd encourage any potential viewers to use sound judgment in determining their own ability to separate uncomfortable film depictions from reality, since I'd hate to throw anyone to the wolves as a result of my positive review.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 25Mbps), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo offers a decent visual presentation that rarely disappoints. Fine object detail never quite reaches the heights found on a glossy modern day production, but aside from subtle drops in clarity (attributed to the use of soft-focus in the source material) during a handful of scenes, I remained pleased with the resolution boost within the high-definition image. Moving on to the color spectrum, you'll notice an overall lack of richness in the stylistic cinematography by Jens Fischer and Eric Kress, who steep a large portion of the film in dreary, overcast hues. This shouldn't be viewed as a weakness in the Blu-ray presentation, since it adds to the heavy nature of the subject matter, but those looking for extensive color vibrancy should set realistic expectations from the outset. On the positive side, black level depth coupled with strong contrast differentiation resist a loss of shadow detail, lending an overall consistency to the image that only falters in a handful of shots (allowing for slight drops in contrast delineation).
Taken as a whole, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo offers a visual presentation that never becomes a distraction or detriment to the film, but can't compare with the best Blu-ray has to offer.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio presentation offered by Music Box is sure to divide Blu-ray enthusiasts into two warring factions. On the one hand, we'll have the audiophiles screaming bloody murder over the lack of a lossless audio mix, which will no-doubt play heavily into their buying decision. Those on the flipside will roll their eyes in frustration at such a black and white assessment, proclaiming decent quality is still good enough. In most circumstances I'd lean toward the audiophile assessment that any compromise is far from acceptable, but given the quality of the Swedish 5.1 mix, and the dialog-heavy nature of the track, I find it difficult to take such a strong stand. In essence, 95% of the film consists of dialog, subtle environmental effects, and an impressive musical score that dominates the background. Spoken lines emerge with adequate clarity (though they seem a bit centrally focused), and effects such as a door creaking or footsteps on a stairwell demonstrate elevated spatial separation across the rear surround field. If I had one primary complaint about the audio presentation, it would be the underwhelming replication of Jacob Groth's musical score, which struggled to gain the upper hand when necessary. There's no way to speculate on the potential for gains if we'd been given a lossless audio track, but I'd wager a boost in richness would have accompanied the lack of applied compression on the source material.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, the only extras included on the disc are a 13-minute interview with the gorgeous main actress from the film (high definition), a Vanger Family Tree graphic, and several theatrical trailers (including a high-def trailer for the 2nd film in the trilogy).
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Bottom line, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the greatest films I've been exposed to this year, and likely one of the best mystery productions in the past decades. I know I'm setting expectations extremely high by offering such a bold assessment, but I truly believe anyone with an eye for investigative thrillers won't walk away disappointed. Getting away from my clear recommendation of the film, a purchase decision will depend entirely on your ability to weather the lack of a lossless audio track. While I don't consider that one element sufficient reason to forego the addition of a wonderful film to your Blu-ray collection, I can understand the reasoning offered by those that disagree. If anything, do yourself a favor and rent the film.
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