The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger (Ewa Froling), the scion of the wealthy, close knit and dysfunctional Vanger clan, mysteriously disappeared. Her uncle, Henrik (Sven-Bertil Taube), has believed, for all these years, that she was murdered by a member of his extensive family and hires discredited journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to find, and finally, identify the killer. The pair does not know it, yet, but the forty-year old disappearance is about to turn nasty when they uncover a string of gruesome murders linked to Harriet in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

I usually eschew films that are over 21/2 hours long because there are few stories that need that long to be told. There are, of course, exceptions and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is one of them as director Niels Arden Opley adapts the Steig Larsson novel in a slick, measured way. I have heard that the adaptation (by Nikolaj Arcell and Rasmus Heisterberg) loses the intriguing political thread of the book and concentrates, instead, on the sordid series of murders. Not having read the novel, I found the film to be exciting, intriguing and suspenseful. So, what is wrong with sordid?

“The Girl…” has all of the elements of a fine thriller - good acting, an interesting, vibrant relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth, an exciting adaptation of a complex suspense novel and solid pro direction by Opley . It is complete unto itself so do not listen to those who read the book. I give it a B+.

When cofounder of Millennium business magazine Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, "Together") is found guilty of perjury for an article he wrote against the practices of corporate behemoth Hans-Erik Wennerström (Stefan Sauk), he is investigated by another big mover and shaker, Martin Vanger (Peter Haber).  But Vanger wants something else from Blomkvist - an assignment for the six months before he must serve his prison sentence to investigate the disappearance of his niece Harriet, whom he suspects was murdered by a member of his extended family back in 1966.  He'll be helped along by an unlikely partner, the strange hacker who performed Vanger's investigation, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

The first of the hugely popular trilogy of books by the now deceased Stieg Larsson arrives from Sweden with an American remake deal already moving forward.  As directed by Niels Arden Oplev ("Worlds Apart") from a screenplay by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, the complex story has been pared down by choosing the exploitative elements over character development and by focusing more on Lisbeth than Blomkvist.  At still almost two and a half hours, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a decent thriller with a star making turn by Rapace, but the direction is fairly pedestrian and the Vanger family dynamics and links to corporate malfeasance which could have given the film more edge have been muffled.  This is one of very few cases where a remake could surpass the original (David Fincher is rumored to be circling).  And you'll probably enjoy the film more if you haven't read the book.

Lisbeth is introduced, well, being introduced.  Her boss assures his client, Vanger's lawyer Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) that although his research is young and strange in both appearance and behavior, she's the very best at what she does.  Thus prepared, Bjurman hardly blinks when he is presented with a goth/biker chick with heavy makeup, tattoos and piercings, an inability to really look one in the eye and an abrupt abrasive manner.  When Bjurman pushes her for a personal opinion on Blomkvist in addition to her compiled report, she says she thinks he was framed, that he is an honest man.

As Mikael becomes ensconced on the private island where the heavy hitters of the Vanger clan live, Arden Oplev devotes way too much time to the abusive, sadist guardian (Ingvar Hirdwall) assigned to Lisbeth and how she gets her comeuppance (it's not pretty).  The book implied that Lisbeth suffers from Asperger's, the go to syndrome of choice these days, but the film paints her an abuse victim from an early age (an 'explanation' is revealed near film's end).  As Mikael, whom Martin has lodged in a separate guest house heated by an old stove, struggles to make sense of the mystery pouring though old photos, newspaper accounts and Harriet's diary, Lisbeth keeps tabs (she can log write into his lap top) and makes a connection he has not.  She decides to send an email, and soon, she's been invited to join him.  Two heads are definitely better than one and the odd girl works herself into Mikael's bed (complications of his Stockholm lover, Millennium cofounder Erika Berger (Lena Endre, "Music for Weddings and Funerals") and a dalliance with Cecilia Vanger (Marika Lagercrantz) have been dropped).

Just as with the adaptation of "The Lovely Bones," though, the serial killer aspect of the story is what is played up in detriment to character. This film has been compared to "The Silence of the Lambs," but that is an easy and inaccurate assessment.  "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" may keep one guessing, but it lacks the suspense and horror of that classic film.  This Swedish import is more into throwing squirm-inducing details in your face than building a sense of dread and the climactic revelation of the killer is a bit of a let down.  That said, even though the adaptation suffers for character development, the filmmakers and their two leads have done a pretty good job building the unlikely Blomkvist/Salander connection. Never have such a mismatched pair (he's a middle-aged journalist, she's a punked out twenty year-old with societal issues) come together so believably.  I just would have appreciated getting a bit more of what makes Blomkvist tick, as Nyqvist is very likable in the role.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a dark and twisty thriller that would have benefited from a bit more style and less fascination with the seamier aspects of the story.  Noomi Rapace is very good bringing the unusual character of Lisbeth Salander to life.

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