Show Me Cinema #15: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

If you’re Swedish you definitely know who Lisbeth Salander is and if you haven’t read them you have definitely heard of the Millenium Trilogy. Written by journalist-author Stieg Larsson and published posthumously, the trilogy of books have sold over 80 million copies worldwide and made Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist household names. The books became not just a nationwide phenomenon but an international one. I even remember seeing the promotional material for the films all over the place when I was a kid. I was obviously too young to see them then, and truth be told I didn’t actually sit down to watch them until just recently. “Them” is perhaps something of a stretch because I’ve only seen the first one, the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor which literally translates to Men Who Hate Women) And I’m sad to say, but this movie just ain’t it.

The film follows investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Mikael Nyqvist) who is asked by a wealthy old man, family patriarch and former CEO Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the 40-year old murder of his niece Harriet. He eventually teams up with computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who had previously been asked to spy on him. The two form a sort of odd-couple relationship together as they spend the winter trying to solve the mystery and find the killer.

Simply put the film tries but unfortunately it doesn’t hold up as an engaging piece of cinema and the prime reason for that has got to do with the writing and the filmmaking, so basically everything really except for the performances which are all stellar. I don’t know what else director Niels Arden Oplev (who’s Danish for some reason) has done but from looking at this I’d guess it was part of a tv miniseries that just happened to be given a theatrical release. My point is, Oplev’s direction isn’t very exciting or interesting. A few nice-looking shots or interesting angles/compositions aside the film consists almost virtually of basic coverage, the kind that Brian De Palma would dread. None of it feels inspired in any ways and everything is virtually shot for efficiency, going from one medium close-up to another in a simple dialogue scene. What I’m saying is that the film would’ve needed a much more stylish director, or at least someone with a strong voice.

This issue unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with the writing. I haven’t read the book but I suspect that the producers behind the movie wanted to diverge from the books as little as possible since they had been such bestsellers and didn’t want to upset too many readers. Whether or not this is true I can’t prove but it feels more like a first draft of a book adaptation as opposed to a finalized one. This does affect the pacing quite a bit as it often drags. The leap from page to the screen is a tricky and often arduous one, but here it feels like they didn’t even bother. Any improvement that could’ve been made is ignored, and like the direction, feels very uninspired.

There are some good things about the movie, albeit mainly restricted to the performances. The cast is filled with an exceptional lineup of Swedish talent, even with Rapace, Nyqvist and Taube excluded you have Peter Harber, Ingvar Hirdwall, Marika Lagercrantz, Lena Endre, Gunnel Lindblom (albeit a small role), Björn Granath and Ewa Frölin, who all deliver the goods in their respective parts. But the main focus I suppose should be paid to Rapace and Nyqvist, since they both play such iconic characters. Nyqvist brings a wonderful sense of fatigue and old age at the beginning, which changes during the film as he becomes more involved with the case. Rapace is terrific as Salander, and people who instantly claim Rooney Mara’s interpretation is superior have most likely never seen this film. Rapace is just as feisty and tough as Mara. I think Rapace tried to make her interpretation of Lisbeth more realistic and believable along the lines the rest of the film and it’s an admirable route to take. She gives a great performance and elevates all of her scenes.

In the end I have to count this as a dissapointment. What’s most frustrating is how we had the chance to make something truly great and stylish, but we completely blew it. It honestly hurts a little bit to know that the Americans did our own story better than we ourselves did. What a pisser.

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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