The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
Written by: Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay), Sieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Peter Haber, and Sven-Bertil Taube
No matter how many times it happens, it is always a disappointment when a movie adapted from a book doesn’t live up to its source material. It happens too often, usually because it’s trying to please the fans or just doesn’t translate well as a movie. Neither of these are the problem with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it’s that the wrong things were cut and not enough was condensed from the 600 page novel to keep a film viewer engaged.
For all of its narrative bumps, the chief success of this movie is capturing the grotesque and demented sense of discovery you get reading Stieg Larsson’s best-seller. It follows Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced Swedish journalist who leaves his self-financed magazine Millennium to help it survive his blighted reputation. He is contacted by Henrik Vanger, an aging business tycoon looking to tie up his loose ends. He wants Blomkvist to help solve the 40 year old murder of his niece Harriet. Blomkvist retreats to the island where the murder takes place, and where all the bitter Vanger family/suspects still reside. Aided by the hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), Blomkvist embarks on a treacherous investigation that puts them on the tail of a serial killer that may or may not have killed Harriet.
Where the movie’s screenplay really falls short, especially when compared to the book, is in that investigation. Suspense around the different members of the Vanger family based on Blomkvist’s interaction with them was astonishingly well done in the novel. Here it is non-existent. Director Niels Arden Oplev instead structures the movie more around the brutal crimes and the Salander/Blomkvist relationship. Not only does this make the revealing of who committed the crimes underwhelming, it makes the two and a half hour run time all the more unnecessary.
The major inspiration for the novel, and by extension the film, were the startling statistics Liersson discovered about violent crimes against women in Sweden. Almost half of all women befall some kind of violent act during their lifetime there, and the brutal crimes committed during the story help bring to light it isn’t all skiing in Sweden. The recent plethora of violent Swedish films, this film trilogy and Let the Right One In, seem intent on dispelling that.
Almost all of of the characters in the movie are joyless unless they are engaging in the things that drive them, whether it be the hunting of a killer or the sadistic torture of a victim. The actors, fittingly, are not very smitten looking people. Noomi Rapace garnered international fame for portraying Lisbeth Salander. Though her performance isn’t really fully realized by the screenplay, she does stone-faced quite well. As Mikael Blomkvist, Michael Nyqvist carries the movie fairly well despite the fact that it never really gets off the ground.
If you’re a fan of the book, watching the movie may seem a no-brainer. Don’t feel obligated to watch this. David Fincher is working on an American adaptation as we speak. Wait for that and see how the reviews turn out, because while there are gritty production values and a sense of discovery from the book here, all of the other elements, from the corporate intrigue to the engagement in the investigation, are disappointingly absent. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is unique in that it doesn’t disappoint in the same ways as other literary adaptations, but it still sadly does.