Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a 2009 Swedish film adaptation of the book of the same name, written by the late author Stieg Larsson. It’s the story of controversial investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who is hired by a wealthy industrialist to investigate the disappearence and possible murder of his daughter, which took place many years before the start of the film. Unbeknownst to Blomkvist, a rather unstable young computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has been hired to monitor him as he conducts his research. As Blomkvist continues his investigation, Salander becomes increasingly interested in the details of the case, and eventually contacts Blomkvist with some helpful clues into deciphering a mysterious message found in the missing girl’s journal. Blomkvist tracks Salander down and the two team up to solve the mystery together, engaging in a strangely sweet love affair along the way.
It’s difficult to know where to begin analyzing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as there is just so much that takes place. At 180 minutes long, director Niels Arden Oplev isn’t afraid to take his time in allowing the characters to develop. There’s something to be said about the deliberately slow pace with which the plot unfolds, and it makes the film’s intense scenes feel that much more intense because of how much they contrast with the bulk of the movie. The investigation at the heart of the film is quite procedural in its nature, but the film’s lengthy running time allows all the detective work to actually feel like the kind of research that would take place in investigating this kind of case. Unlike CSI or any number of other crime dramas, clues don’t just pop up conveniently, making every important detail seem like a big accomplishment for the protagonists. The mystery is a long and intricate one, and the film views like a novel reads (if that makes any sense).
In spite of its intricacies, I wasn’t as engaged by the plot as some other critics have been. The claim on one of the movie’s posters that it will have on the edge of your seat at all times didn’t ring true in my case, and I will admit that there were times when the film dragged. What saved it for me, though, is the pairing of Nyqvist and Rapace as Blomkvist and Salander. Noomi Rapace, in particular, is absolutely amazing as the disturbed, gothy, cyberpunk hacker, and apparently went through a lot to get into character – even going so far as actually getting all of Salander’s piercings! Michael Nyqvist is solid as Blomkvist, too, and I completely bought them both not only in their roles, but also in their relationship. Even though their relationship is a most unusual one (particularly on Salander’s side), it works, and there are surprisingly sweet moments between the two of them unlike what you’d find in other films. Because The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in a trilogy of films (and apparently the basis for a television series, all starring the same actors), the characters are without a doubt the most important thing about the movie. Had Blomkvist and Salander been played by less talented actors, this movie would have fallen right on its face. Thankfully, Nyqvist and Rapace do a terrific job, and their pairing was the highlight of the film for me.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a beautiful film. All the shots are composed perfectly, and the editing is so smooth that it moves along fluidly without ever being jarring. The film also sports a muted colour scheme, which conveys the chilly climate of the country in winter really effectively. Even if you don’t enjoy the content of the film’s story, it is impossible to deny that the film looks gorgeous.
Other than that, I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about the movie. It kept me engaged for the duration, and I enjoyed the performances by the two leads, but the film doesn’t particularly bring anything new to the table as far as the detective drama genre goes. It’s not hard-boiled enough to be a film noir, nor is it cyberpunk enough to be cyberpunk, and I can’t actually remember any particular set pieces that stuck in my mind. In the end, it’s sort of like an airport bookstore novel with a leftover character from Hackers thrown in. But in spite of the fact that this didn’t feel like a very inspired detective story, I did like the two main characters enough that I would gladly see the two sequels. This is extremely competent filmmaking, and the movie deserves accolades for that alone, but there are plenty of other things to like about it. In the end, it was about a half hour too long for me, and it didn’t quite leave me satisfied the way some other detective drama/thrillers have in the past.
Speaking of detective drama/thrillers, it has already been announced that David Fincher will be directing an American remake of this film, and it made perfect sense to me as I watched it. The investigation scenes and muted colour scheme both smack of Fincher’s works, particularly Seven and the more recent Zodiac. While I’ve never been a big proponent of American remakes of foreign films, this one seems like a natural fit with Fincher’s filmography, and I will be interested to see what comes of the remake.
3.5 out of 5