The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

2010-10-19 14:39
 
 
What it's about:

A troubled young hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) teams up with a disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) when he is hired by an aged, wealthy man to solve the mystery of his young niece's disappearance 40 years previously.

What we thought:

Warning to all Stieg Larson's fans: This is a review from someone who has not read the book. Also, this is a review of the movie, NOT the book.

Without getting into the merits, or lack thereof, of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a film, it will be very interesting to note how it does at the local box office. The Stieg Larson novel it is based on has enjoyed tremendous critical success as probably THE biggest literary event since the Twilight books, even if its author didn't live to see the fruits of his efforts, so it should have a huge built-in audience. But how much of that audience will want to watch a subtitled Swedish-language film?

Based on the track record of all foreign language films being limited exclusively to the few art house cinemas throughout the country, it wouldn't be an unreasonable guess to assume that David Fincher's upcoming English-language remake will make exponentially more money. This is more the pity because regardless of what language it's in, Niels Arden Oplev's film is a very mainstream thriller – a rather hardcore mainstream thriller (that 18 age restriction is there for a reason) but a mainstream thriller nonetheless.

As to whether it's a good mainstream thriller is a bit more complicated. It does have, at its centre, a very well thought out and compelling whodunit that is competently, even moodily and stylishly put together and climaxes in a suitably tense set-piece, featuring at least one great character and two great performances. What it doesn't have, though, is restraint. Yet, paradoxically, it suffers from too much of the same. It is too bloated and unwieldy when it needs to hold back and too sombre when it needs to cut loose.

The film is saddled with the gargantuan task of attempting to translate a clearly long and complex novel into a reasonable running time for the screen. However much the far-too-long 153-minute running time drags in spots – especially in the many scenes of our heroes looking at black and white photographs and wondering what it all means – it is also certainly not enough time for the film to tell its story. Or, to be more specific, stories.

However much the basic plot of the film has to do with solving the decades-old mystery and its focus on Mikael, the journalist trying to solve it, there is another, more character driven story that focuses on Lisbeth, our titular troubled hacker who later on in the film joins Mikael in his investigation. Before meeting up with Mikael, Lisbeth is involved in a sub-plot that involves some horrendous scenes of sexual violence that are never exploitative or eroticised but, because they are so disconnected from what's happening with the rest of the film, they feel somewhat gratuitous. That they are actually connected thematically to later parts of the film doesn't entirely help matters either because the point that they are trying to put across is dealt with far more discreetly but just as effectively in flashbacks to a violent incident in Lisbeth's childhood.      

Beyond the pure plot mechanics, there is also a problem of tone caused by these two storylines. The mystery itself calls for a pulpy, pot-boiler tone, not unlike what Martin Scorsese did with his masterful exercise in B-movie, psycho-thriller suspense Shutter Island. Instead it is forced to go with a more subdued, coldly atmospheric feel (the hue of the film is all icy blues and cool greys), a tactic that works in some scenes but weighs down others. The scenes with Lisbeth fare far better tonally but they never feel as fully developed as they should be and are constantly shoved aside for the main hook of the movie, the mystery itself.

That these problems only amount to flaws in an otherwise pretty good film, rather than sinking it completely, does say a lot about the talents of everyone involved and for all of my disappointment with this first part of the Millennium trilogy, I still have fairly high hopes for the remaining two. Here's hoping the next two novels lend themselves better to adaptations – both of which will be released locally over the next two months. What Fincher has in store for his version of the novel (due for a late 2011 release) will no doubt keep interest in these Swedish adaptations alive for some time yet.


A complex, hardcore Swedish thriller based on the increasingly popular Millennium trilogy of novels by the late Stieg Larsson.

dereck 2010/10/20 8:02 AM
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I have read the book and saw the movie which i thought was very good and very close to the book. Can't wait for the next movie
Andrew 2010/10/20 2:19 PM
I have read one of the books and seen both of the movies and enjoyed the books and movies tremendously. I think definitely one appreciates the movies more if you have read the books first, as you then realize the movies are very good adaptations of the book.
Rob 2010/10/20 2:33 PM
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The movie is terrible. Boring and long with no effort in captivating the audience. Better steer clear of this - not even worth a look on a rented DVD
Poena 2010/10/20 5:35 PM
I saw the movie (English dubbed), without reading the book, and asked myself afterwards - "Have I ever seen a better Movie ? " This is an unbelievable good film, keeps you involved right to the end. Stieg Larson is like a Tarrantino for authors
Bob 2010/10/21 11:29 AM
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I haven't read the book, but thought the film was very limited. It left things unexplained, it struggled (for me at least) to build genuine tension, and felt rushed towards the end. I also thought the character of Lisbeth wasn't handled particuarly well (well acted though), her character creation felt clumsy. The scene of sexual violence was a massive disconnect from the rest of the film, and didn't really add much to the understanding of Lisbeth as a character. She felt overstated, yet underdevelopment.
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