Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

by Christopher Misch



Be it the marketing of the films or merely misjudgment on my part, but I always associated the Swedish film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series with the Twilight franchise in terms of both content and target audience. An almost unforgivable blunder that only now, after having seen the first instalment of the trilogy, can I fully comprehend. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the first in a series of three crime novels by Stockholm journalist, Stieg Larsson to be adapted to the big screen; the other two being The Girl Who Plays With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo opens with Mikael Blmokvist (played by Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced journalist who resigns after losing a highly publicized libel case. He is not out of work long however, as he is soon contacted by Henrik Vangar, a wealthy retired businessman obsessed with finding answers to a cold-case involving his great-niece, Harriet, who disappeared some forty years ago and has been presumed dead ever sense. With the promise that he will be well compensated for his efforts, Mikael accepts Henrik’s freelance offer and moves into a small lakeside cottage located within the grounds of the Vangar Estate to commence his investigation. In his struggle to uncover the truth surrounding Harriet’s disappearance, he persuades Lisbeth (played by Noomi Rapace), a troubled, dragon-tattooed cyberpunk to assist him. Together with his investigative talents and her technological prowess the unlikely twosome are able to uncover the most significant breakthrough in the case in over four decades: That Harriet’s disappearance was not a lone incident, but rather somehow linked to a series of brutal murders with a member of the Vangar family identified as a prime suspect.

The film’s gruesome content is an intriguing facet, particularly in its sequences of graphic sexual violence.  One particular scene where Lisbeth is handcuffed to a bed frame, gagged, and violently raped by her newly appointed legal guardian is sure to make even those who were able to sit through Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, nervously grasp their armrests and slowly squirm in their seats. But, there really is no apparent need for it to be as explicit as it was. The scene does add a dark layer of sadism to the film, but does so without progressing the story or contributing to its prevailing themes.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo attempts to explore several themes cinematically, although it’s primarily a standard ‘who done it?’ tale as Mikael and Lisbeth attempt to connect the dots surrounding Harriet’s forty year old disappearance. The film is encumbered by several subplots that give the feeling of incompleteness even with the film’s already excessive length of 158 minutes.  It seems like there is so much more to know and learn about these characters that is omitted; a typical causality of literary adaptations, and a reason, at least for this instance, why there are sequels. But, once the serial killer narrative manifests itself and pieces start falling into place the story gains momentum culminating in a series of climatic moments exposing the truth behind Harriet’s aforementioned vanishing act. Unfortunately, the execution of the climax is diminished by a tedious denouement which merely sets us up for the next instalment in the trilogy. If only the ending was stronger or finished earlier, this could have been not only a great film, but a staple of the serial killer sub-genre.

72/100 - If only the ending was stronger or finished earlier, this could have been not only a great film, but a staple of the serial killer sub-genre.

Christopher Misch

I've always loved movies, but it wasn't until under the tutelage of Professor Garry Leonard at the University of Toronto that my passion for the industry became an understanding of an art form. With a specific fascination in both the western genre and Asian cinema in general, I am of the view that good movies are either enlightening or entertaining, and if you are truly lucky they are both.
  • Anonymous

    What are your thoughts on the production details for the Hollywood remake?

  • Chris D. Misch

    Well for the most part Fincher as remained in my good books, so needless to say I’m excited to see what he can do with the material and what he will do differently. Word on the street is that the entire ending has been re-written.

  • Alexius G

    Great review of a brilliant film! I actually watched it last year (in Swedish…with subtitles…lol) and it still blew me away. As for the graphic sexual violence, it may not have seemed to progress the plot, but considering that the original title for the novel was “Men Who Hate Women”, and looking at the revelation at the end, maybe they felt it needed to be there to give the audience a reason to keep rooting for Lisbeth no matter what she did in retaliation? :)

  • Christopher Misch

    Well, I have yet to see the remaining films in the trilogy, what whatever she does to him in retaliation, he definitely had it coming.

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