Should I Watch..? 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)
What's the big deal?
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a Swedish thriller film released in 2009 and is adapted from the novel of the same name by journalist and author Stieg Larsson. It is the first film in the Millennium series and was followed by The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest later the same year. This first film follows disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist who is hired to investigate the disappearance and possible murder of a young woman in 1966 as well as his fledging and complicated relationship with troubled hacker Lisbeth Salander. Like the books, the film was hugely popular and generated a worldwide income of over $104 million. It was released in Sweden as "Män Som Hatar Kvinnor" which literally means "Men who hate women".
What's it about?
After losing a libel case against billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerström and serving three months in jail, journalist Mikael Blomkvist is released and ready to resume publishing the magazine "Millennium". Instead, he is hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of his niece Harriet on Christmas Day, 1966. Henrik has reason to believe that she was murdered by a member of the Vanger family. Mikael then moves into a cottage on the Vanger estate and begins his investigation.
Mysteriously, Blomkvist receives an anonymous email containing clues to the case. They are from a young hacker previously hired by Henrik - the disturbed and troubled Lisbeth Salander - and once Blomkvist meets her, they agree to work on the case together. But how close are they to the truth and will either of them survive long enough to expose it?
Niels Arden Oplev
Nicolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg *
Release Date (UK)
12th March, 2010
Crime, Drama, Thriller
What's to like?
It would be pointless to start discussing this film without first mentioning the astonishing performance of Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, a performance that would inevitably lead to wider recognition. The character has clearly already been through so much and yet, she shifts constantly from frightened young woman to determined warrior to loving partner and back again. Without Rapace, this would be your typically Scandinavian drama with bleakness running through its icy veins. But with her, the film is magnetic and enthralling.
Opposite her, Nyqvist is perfectly suited to the role of Blomkvist as his world-weary cynical journalist is the polar opposite to Salander, in some ways - he has seen the worst of the world and is also angry about it but too jaded to try and fight it. The story might seem a little Agatha Christie for some (lots of suspects, isolated location) but Christie never wrote a story as bitter or as dark as this with its themes of incest and sexual domination. The film occasionally remembers that it's a thriller and so drops in a couple of tense action scenes to break up the otherwise conventional mystery at the film's heart. I loved the sequence with Nyqvist being pursued in the snowy forest by an unseen gunman and his performance brings home how out of his depth Blomkvist really is.
The film itself is a triumph with an atmosphere that matches the dark and grim world it finds itself in. Interiors are poorly lit and the under-rated score by Jacob Groth is well worth a listen. Combined with Salander's penchant for wearing nothing but black, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the film is overly depressing but it isn't. It fits nicely into its long running time, meaning that you can enjoy every detail in the film, but it also has some twisted lightness as well. The bleak landscapes are blanketed in pristine snow and Salander's brutal revenge on her legal guardian is not just uplifting in a "Holy shyola!" kind of way but signifies the moment when this potentially lethal force of nature is unleashed to take her revenge against the world.
- Not only did Rapace acquire the various piercings Lisbeth wears but she also earned her motorcycle licence, dieted for seven months and took kick-boxing lessons.
- Despite the huge success of the books and film adaptations, Larsson never lived to see his work published. He died in 2004 at the age of 50, the same age his grandfather also died.
- All the music for this and the other films in the Millennium trilogy were recorded in four days. Jacob Groth, the conductor, noted that the sheet music alone weighed 33 kilograms.
What's not to like?
In some respects, it may feel a little too close to the book - nothing wrong with that, you might argue. But The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo could benefit from maybe trimming some of the extraneous detail to prevent the running time getting out of hand. Salander's interactions with her legal guardian took up too much time, in my opinion, and could have been edited without sacrificing the impact of that relationship on her character. Also, with all of the cast being mostly unknown, it can be difficult to remember which character they are supposed to be. The exception is obviously Rapace - not because she has since moved to Hollywood but because Salander is so memorable.
Not having read the book, I also found it difficult to follow every facet of the investigation which seemed to revolve around the same photo chucking out clue after clue. However, I'm happy to work out my ignorance by reading the books and frankly, that's as solid a sign that a film adaptation has worked as you're going to get.
Should I watch it?
Not only is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a dark, adult and blistering thriller but it also serves as a reminder to audiences that foreign cinema need not be as impenetrable as a lot of French films. The language is not a problem - in fact, it works better by reinforcing the natural environment around them which is one reason why I'm not convinced by David Fincher's remake. It's not an easy watch and many will be put off by the subject matter or running time but for fans of the books, this is just about as good as it gets.
Great For: Swedish cinema, Rapace's career, readers of the Millennium novels
Not So Great For: people who struggle with subtitles, anyone thinking of going to Sweden for a holiday, anyone under the age of 18
What else should I watch?
The entire Millennium trilogy was broadcast as a six-part mini-series on Swedish television with each film making up two episodes. This first film was followed by The Girl Who Played With Fire which marked a change in director in Daniel Alfredson but was considered broadly the same as the first film. Alfredson also directed the final part of the series The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest which maintains the series' style but many felt that it was a weak end to the series and it received a mixed reception from critics. As someone who has seen all three, I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of them.
As for the US remake (also called The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), it did remarkably well by receiving critical acclaim from reviewers and grossed more than twice the Swedish original. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara take over the roles of Blomkvist and Salander and while their performances were praised, it would appear that an attempt to follow it up remains stuck in development hell. Obviously, Craig has his hands clasped firmly around the role of James Bond although rumours persist that he's about to give it up. But who knows - would he really walk away from 007 to complete this series? Only time will tell.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox