Original release: February 27th, capsule 2009
Running time: 152 minutes
Country of origin: Sweden
Original language: Swedish (with English subtitles)
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writers: Nikolaj Arcel, remedy Rasmus Heisterberg, Stieg Larsson (novel)
Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube
I came to this film rather late. Despite hearing very good reviews and noticing its success at the UK box office, I completely missed out on seeing Niels Arden Oplev’s take on Stieg Larsson’s Men Who Hate Women, the first part of his posthumously released Millennium trilogy.
Swiftly followed by two sequels which, as I had not seen the first chapter, also passed me by, it was really only the release of David Fincher’s US remake of the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo that really prompted me to watch the Swedish version as my preference would always be to see the original first if possible.
The plot of the film, for those who don’t already know it, sees investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) convicted of libel against a high-powered businessman whom he wrote an exposé on. Facing a short stretch in prison and an uncertain future for the publication he writes for, he takes a job working for wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger; to find out who killed his niece 40 years earlier.
Along the way, Blomkvist teams up with the real star of the show, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and together they expose the dark past of the Vanger family. Not only is Lisbeth the most interesting thing about the film, but Noomi Rapace is the standout piece of the production. Lisbeth is a young, dysfunctional, bisexual (though mildly androgynous) computer hacker who might be somewhere on the autistic scale. She’s suffered terrible things in her life and has developed her own brand of justice for those who’ve wronged her and those she cares about.
Her brand of retribution may seem harsh to the people in the film, like Blomkvist, but it would be difficult for an audience member not to admire it.
Whether it’s in fighting back against her sadistic parole officer or flailing a broken bottle at a gang of youths who jump her in an underpass, we’re never under any doubt that Lisbeth will ultimately come out on top. There’s doubt however with regards to her past which is only hinted at through the odd flashback and on her behaviour and it’s through Rapace’s performance that we come to understand how horrific life can be in the world’s seedy underbelly.
The mystery at the centre of the tale isn’t a particularly impressive one, and is one I was pretty sure about from its introduction, and the revelations regarding a spate of killings is a bit of a damp squib. However, even knowing what the end will be, seeing Lisbeth and Mikael forge their partnership and follow the clues to their conclusion is pretty enthralling. It’s not scintillating however, but even though the twists are signposted a few miles off, we can still enjoy the characters approaching them. The rest of the cast support Rapace fairly well and those characters who we’re meant to hate are portrayed with easily enough malice for us to do so – one of the final scenes for Henrik was well delivered emotionally.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t especially polished and it comes as no surprise to learn that is was originally conceived as a two-part TV drama and then upgraded to a feature film. Although it’s not badly shot, a little more creativity in the cinematography and lighting would go some way to add more atmosphere which I’m told is all pervasive in the book and maybe lacked a little in the film. Perhaps the best description would be that, cinematically it’s a little workmanlike and not quite as slick as we might hope.
On the whole though, I did enjoy the film; it has some good moments, a fascinating central character in Lisbeth and an interesting relationship between her and Blomkvist. It wasn’t amazing stuff, but watchable enough, especially Noomi Rapace, and I was swept up by the investigation if not by the mystery.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.