Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The original Swedish adaptation of the first of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy is already a modern classic...

Swedish films may not be entirely prevalent in our cinemas but the few that make the transition are outstanding. We were given the masterful Let The Right One In to, quite literally, sink our teeth into in 2009 (UK release) and now we have been given another Swedish modern-day masterpiece in the guise of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, based on the first book in the Millennium trilogy by the late Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larsson.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a computer hacker, join forces to search for a woman who has been missing – presumed dead – for forty years. The great thing about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is that it is not just another straight-forward conspiracy crime film. The ideas that are explored are fascinating including its focusing on whether Nazism is it still prevalent in Sweden. The Second World War may have been over for 65 years but the film suggests that people are still trying to perpetuate Hitler’s ideologies, with people in power abusing such power by following such ideologies; it’s a very brave subject to speak out on.

A lot of films that deal with serial killers have a hard time trying to justify the modus operandi of the killer. Fortunately the motives behind the kidnapper/murderer in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are fascinating. Providing a form of social commentary it also ties into the idea that Nazism exists more than we, as a society, would like to admit whilst bringing religion to the table too. Through questioning the morals of those who take the words of the Bible literally the film gives the audience a lot of material to chew on. Nonetheless the most prominent theme present in the film centres on the issue regarding violence against women. Thankfully it is not treated in the misogynistic way some may expect and is, instead, given more of a modern-day feminist interpretation. Could Lisbeth be a feminist icon of the new age? By transcending the ideas of feminism she shirks away from the use of such labelling.

Regardless of labels, Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating creation. It could be argued that she is sometimes more compelling than the film itself in places with the psychological processes that drive her garnering much of the film’s attention. Noomi Rapace portrays Lisbeth in such a raw and emotional (yet detached) way it would be rather poetic if at least a nod was issued from the Oscar committee toward her engaging performance. There is no doubt that the character will go down as an icon of both literature and film and Rapace’s performance will be one to remember for quite some time after the trilogy is over.

Fans will note that the novel is, of course, more of an in depth affair. Although the film doesn’t dig as deep as the book its attempts are applause-worthy. It is a compelling film that will draw people in for a variety of reasons. If you’re looking for a smart thriller that has loads of substance then this is undoubtedly the film for you.

The film does manage to improve on the book in the way it paces itself. It feels more level-headed than the novel which, at times, feels slightly uneven. The film makes every second of its two and half hours seem worthwhile. The film-makers clearly realised they did not have to use random pyrotechnic displays to make it an action-filled suspense-thriller. The atmosphere created is vastly more effective and the rewards that are reaped are indeed far greater than its literary counterpart. It is advisable to read the novels in conjunction to watching the film as there are lapses in information that deserve to be filled in (although it is understandable that some pieces are left out – imagine the running time if it had included everything).

Take the cinematography, the top notch acting, the compelling and exiting plot and the sometimes visceral action and you have yourself a first-rate film that proves that Sweden is the place to watch in the forthcoming years. Whether you see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in its native tongue or dubbed, seek it out – it is without a doubt one of the best films of 2010 and you would be a fool to miss it.

Best character: Lisbeth Salander
Best dialogue: Mikael Blomkvist: ‘What has happened to you? How did you turn out this way? You know everything about me. I don’t know shit about you. Not a damn thing.’ Lisbeth Salander: ‘That’s the way it is.’
Watch this if you liked; Infernal Affairs (2002), The Bourne trilogy (2002- 2007), Salt (2010).

  • The extended cut of the film is three hours long and was originally meant to be a television series.
  • Following in the footsteps of Let the Right One In, it was announced that renowned film director David Fincher (The Social Network) had been chosen to direct a remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo starring Rooney Mara (A Nightmare on Elm Street remake) as Lisbeth Salander and Daniel Craig (Casino Royale) as Mikael Blomvist. Shooting began in Sweden in September of this year and it is hoped that the film will have a December 21st 2011 release.

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