A Review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I will confess – I have not read any of Steig Larsson’s original novels. Now I really want to. If they are half as good as this film, that should make for interesting reading.

The film is so well executed and intriguing that I can forgive the fact that it is also a bit silly. It is the sort of film that I wish more summer blockbusters would emulate – one that actually manages to have memorable experiences and good direction rather than a bunch of flashing effects and shout-y dialogue. It may not be a deep experience, but it is a very entertaining one.

The film is about a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a journalist who is due to be jailed on a libel charge. Before he begins his sentence, a wealthy man named Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) hires him to help figure out what happened to his missing niece, Harriet. Mikael, with the help of the titular girl, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a master computer hacker, uncovers a long lasting conspiracy involving other members of the Vanger family.

I was not sure, originally, why the film was called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to begin with. After all, Lisbeth is more of a supporting character. It would be the equivalent of calling The Silence of the Lambs The Cannibal in Jail. Yet Lisbeth is the most interesting character in the film because she remains a supporting character. She is androgynous (and clearly bisexual), tough, and able to stand on her own. Even if her subplot (involving her probationary guardian) is not really necessary to the main plot, it does help set the mood of the film and establish her as a character.

Noomi Rapace does the best possible job at bringing the character to life. It is constantly hard to read what she is thinking, and interesting to watch how she is always one step ahead of the game that is being played out for her. And yes, she does give the wounded passion that the character needs. I do understand why Lisbeth is at the point she is, even if I am not entirely clear as to the how. Maybe that is better.

The rest of the characters, including Mikael, are not nearly as interesting as Lisbeth. The film does seem to note this – Mikael just acts as the traditional noir narrator/audience character in the film. The villains are total villains, and the femme fatale – is Lisbeth, but she also works within the parameters of that traditional framework. The story does come to a satisfying (if a touch mawkish) conclusion, and it is done in a smart way. If you are going to give audiences a happy ending, make sure it makes sense. Many noirs would not have done well with happy endings.

Actually, that is what the film ultimately is – an update of many classic film noir traits. I don’t know why Scandinavia has become rather obsessed with these films lately (check out the original Insomnia if you don’t believe me) but the landscapes and characters they create do the genre justice. Maybe the fact that the countryside seems to lack warmth and color helps recreating the feelings that the classic black and white films manage to create. That is why the film is a strong one – the makers ( and author) studied what made the originals work. It does not break new grounds, but it does provide a very well executed, exciting experience.

One more thing; I am aware of David Fincher’s remake that is due to be released this year. What do I think? Well, as with all remakes, I am skeptical. I am sure that Fincher will do a good job at adapting the novel and will be able to properly translate it. But when it has already been done in such a good way, I am not entirely sure that it is necessary. A good adaptation already exists. I would not recommend waiting for Fincher’s take on the material. Go ahead and seek out this one.

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