Friday, November 05, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Dir: Niels Arden Oplev
Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Not since Let the Right One In has a Swedish film gained so much attention States-side as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Based on Stieg Larsson’s popular novel of the same name, the film is the first installment of the Millennium Trilogy, which also includes the sequels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The first film is a pretty good murder mystery once it gets moving, but unfortunately it is exceeded by its own hype.

In the movie, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is asked by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger to investigate the unsolved disappearance of his teenage niece Harriet roughly 40 years ago. As Henrik nears the end of his life, he yearns to finally put an end to the mystery that has tormented him for four decades. Mikael agrees to take the case and moves into the Vanger family’s island home.

Meanwhile, an emotionally-scarred young hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) tracks Mikael out of professional and personal interest. Her prying leads her to uncover clues in the Harriet Vanger case, so she joins Mikael in his investigation. Together they open the lid on some dark family history, and as they get closer to the truth, their own lives are put in danger.

The script, written by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, is a bit slow at first. The film really picks up once the two lead characters get together and the investigation starts to get interesting. Prior to that, there is a lot of background story provided for Lisbeth, which occupies much of the first hour. Still, the visual history makes her that much more of an intriguing character study. She carries a lot of emotional baggage, and some of her traumatic experiences explain her interest in Harriet’s disappearance. One piece of her history that is underrepresented in the film is the titular dragon tattoo, which is shown once and never addressed again. Furthermore, Lisbeth is more a sidekick than a centerpiece of the story, so why is her tattoo so important that it made the title? I suspect the novel touched on its significance, but the movie does not, which is perplexing.

Once the exciting portion gets underway, Dragon Tattoo is a pretty effective who-dun-it thriller. There are many potential suspects, misleading clues, and disturbing motives. The story involves religious fanaticism, cult rituals, and Nazis – all wrapped up in a taut, realistic murder mystery. The ending is a bit abrupt and all-too-convenient, but it is seemingly only as such because of the planned sequels. As Lisbeth, Noomi Rapace has garnered a lot of attention and deservedly so, as she is quite good. Michael Nyqvist, on the other hand, has not been quite as noticed by American audiences but he is also very good in the film.

Of course there is already an American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the works. Fortunately, that remake will have David Fincher at the helm, so there is a very real possibility that it will be better than the Oplev’s film. Frankly, the original Dragon Tattoo is overhyped. It is an enjoyable movie, but not nearly as brilliant as some self-proclaimed art house film buffs seem to think it is. I have only seen the first installment so far, but at this point, I am more interested in seeing Fincher’s re-boot than the two Swedish sequels.


Rick "The Hat" Bman said...

I really liked the movie but thought there were quite a few parts that dragged. It wasn't as brilliant as many people make it out to be but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

That being said, don't bother with the sequels. They just weren't worth it. By the third one I was quite bored with the entire thing.