Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor) (2009)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

****

Anyone who has used public transport at any stage over the last couple of years has probably seen a few copies of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy being read. The three books, centering on bisexual computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, have gripped the masses in a way no other book has since The Da Vinci Code. With such a large potential audience, a film adaptation of the Trilogy was inevitable. Whether it would translate well to the screen was another matter, as a dense (borderline convoluted) plot had to be condensed down to two-and-a-bit hours. Scenes of violence, some of it sexual, also had to be factored in. Fun for all the family!

The film of the first chapter, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, works for three reasons. Firstly, it was made in Sweden by Swedes with a Swedish cast. Larsson’s books don’t shy away from their origins, and neither do the films. In this film, Stockholm is as gritty and exciting a canvas as any American city, with scumbags to spare. The Swedish Tourist Board will be delighted.

The second reason is the casting. It’s an unfortunate truth that meaty lead roles for women are rare, but Lisbeth is a genuine opportunity for any actress. Noomi Rapace steps up to the challenge with a brave and intense performance. Lisbeth is severely damaged goods, and Rapace plays her as forever vengeful, but never without reason. Opposite her, Michael Nyqvist gives good straight man as Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist who gets help from Lisbeth to solve the disappearance of a young girl 40 years before. He is fascinated by Lisbeth, and who wouldn’t be? Next to Blomkvist, the heavily pierced and sociopathic Lisbeth is an intriguing figure. Rapace hints at vulnerabilities, but the anger comes first, and she proves as magnetic a heroine as Kill Bill’s Bride or Alien’s Ripley; Noomi Rapace has arrived.

Thirdly, the script (adapted by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg) is very faithful to the book, and is just as unflinching in its depiction of violence, much of it revolving around Lisbeth. When she is wronged by a creepy parole officer, retribution is brutal but equal to the crime.  Whilst the basic disappearance plot is kept intact, right down to a sinister final act in which several skeletons are jolted out of cupboards, the mechanics of it all can’t help but feel like a TV crime serial. Indeed, the look of the whole film feels a touch TV movie-ish, perhaps due to budgetary constraints. The ending tries to tie up loose ends a little too neatly, but director Niels Arden Oplev keeps the atmosphere pacy and tense throughout. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a fierce and fiery film, with a leading lady you just have to meet!

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