Directed by: Daniel Alfredson and Niels Arden Oplev
Premise: An adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s books The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) uncover a ring of abuse that reaches the top of Swedish society. Also sometimes marketed as “The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy.”
What Works: The Millennium trilogy is a dark crime drama built around two compelling characters. The signature character of the series is Lisbeth Salander, an antisocial computer hacker who uses her technical knowhow to disrupt and expose sex abusers. Lisbeth is an antihero; she doesn’t have the personality usually associated with heroic characters and she acts as a vigilante but Lisbeth ultimately serves a righteous cause. She is paired with Mikael Blomkvist, a muckraking journalist who has a much more accessible (if bland) personality. Through a turn of events, Lisbeth and Mikael team their efforts, forge a friendship, help each other out of traps, and expose sexual abusers who are in positions of economic and political power. The relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael takes on another layer of meaning; each of them represents different ways of confronting power. Lisbeth acts as a vigilante, using her computer skills in ways that are sometimes illegal or ethically fuzzy to serve a greater good and at some critical points she engages in violence. Lisbeth is not just an activist but also a survivor of sexual abuse and this is personal to her. Mikael lives a mainstream life and is bound to operate within social norms. The characters negotiate with each other and with their conscience, asking to what degree they can compromise or delegate to the legal system and when to take direct action. That conflict reveals a moral complexity to this story. The world of the Millennium trilogy is one in which the social institutions have failed to stop sexual violence; it’s eventually revealed that those atop of those institutions may be the abusers. That intricate web of power and corruption is gradually revealed over the course of the trilogy and that escalation of scope is intertwined with Lisbeth and Mikael’s personal development. It makes for a fascinating narrative that combines intimate personal stories with the broad scope of a political thriller. The trilogy is also handsomely produced. The visual style possesses an icy and dreary look that suits the themes and the setting. Noomi Rapace impresses as Lisbeth Salander. This character is one of the great antiheroes and she has been played by several actors in various projects but Rapace is to Lisbeth Salander as Sean Connery is to James Bond; her performance is the touchstone against which every subsequent incarnation will be judged.
What Doesn’t: Given its subject matter, it’s no surprise that the Millennium trilogy is unpleasant. The film deals frankly with sexual abuse and misogyny. It does so in a way that is smart and with an awareness of the way trauma impacts these characters. But the tone of the Millennium trilogy can be described as oppressive.
DVD extras: There have been multiple releases of the Millennium trilogy. The film debuted as a television miniseries consisting of six episodes. The trilogy was then edited down and split into three feature films corresponding with Stieg Larsson’s novels. Those films were released individually. The miniseries version (sometimes referred to as the “extended edition”) and the feature film versions are available on streaming services and on physical media.
Bottom Line: The Millennium trilogy tells a harrowing story about abuse and justice but it is also a great character piece. The narrative smartly links power with abuse but also resistance to that abuse and Noomi Rapace turns Lisbeth Salander into one of the screen’s great antiheroes.