The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
|Sven-Bertil Taub||Henrik Vanger|
|Michael Nyqvist||Mikael Blomkvist|
|Directed by||Niels Arden Opley|
First things first. The girl does have a dragon tattoo, but blink and you’ll miss it. You’re more likely to remember the piercings, the angry black hair, the slouch, the Goth attitude, the sullen expression. But none of these images lend themselves to a catchy title, although any of them would probably provide more box office appeal than Men Who Hate Women, the original name attached to the best-selling book by the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first novel of a trilogy (the other two, already filmed, are The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) that Larsson finished before his untimely death a few years ago from a heart attack at the age of 50. (Larsson’s outspoken journalistic advocacy against right wing extremist groups earned him his share of death threats, and there are those who believe he was murdered).
Larsson’s title was more to the point. There are men who hate women in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the novel’s chapters are introduced with chilling statistics on violence against women. The plot of the film, streamlined from the novel’s more complex threads, zeroes in on an investigation into the 40-year-old disappearance of a teenage girl, Harriet Vanger, the favorite niece of wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taub, who looks like the Swedish cousin of James and Edward Fox). Harriet disappeared one afternoon in 1966 from the Vanger compound on an island in northern Sweden, under Agatha Christie-like circumstances that make it likely that she was murdered by a member of the family. No trace of her was ever found.
The Vanger family is full of likely suspects. Half of them were Nazis during the war, and most of them hate most of the rest of them. Vanger family reunions, such as the one at which Harriet disappeared, are chilly, business-oriented affairs attended by “thirty small-minded, greedy persons” as Henrik describes his clan. “One of them,” he adds, “killed Harriet.”
Every year on his birthday Henrik receives a parcel containing a framed flower, sent from some far corner of the world. When she was alive this was a traditional gift Harriet gave him, and the old man is convinced they now come from her killer as a vicious taunt. He hires Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a crusading investigative journalist for Millennium Magazine, to poke through the dead embers of the mystery. Blomkvist has some time on his hands; he’s just been forced to resign from his magazine over a libel case he lost in court, and he’s facing prison time, which fortuitously doesn’t start for six months.
Blomkvist himself has been under scrutiny by Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), a computer whiz kid hired by Henrik to comb through his past. They wind up joining forces on the Vanger mystery. Lisbeth, the girl who sports that tattoo, is a brilliant but damaged young ward of the state with troubles of her own that involve a predatory guardian (Peter Andersson), one of the misogynists of Larsson’s title. This relationship provides some arrestingly ugly sexually scenes of violence and revenge, a signature sequence of events in a film that is no stranger to brutal violence. Harriet and Lisbeth aren’t the only female victims in the story. As the chilly plot spools through the teeth-chattering blue cold of a Swedish winter, evidence emerges of ghoulish serial murders of women, trapped out in religious fanaticism. Lisbeth and Blomkvist chip away at the mystery using the familiar tools of the movie sleuth’s trade: photo blowups, computer hackery, and that indispensable old chestnut, sifting through endless boxes of paper files culled from library archives.
Even at two and a half hours, the movie must perforce leave out a lot of the subplots and substance that made the book so interesting. But since much of that involved financial skullduggery, it might have slowed things down, even though, as Frank Rich observed in a recent op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, Larsson took dead aim at the villains responsible for our catastrophic economic collapse (“They are, without exception, bankers and industrialists”).
Director Niels Arden Opley knows this, but his half-hearted effort to include a wisp of the financial drama only muddles the stew and adds a confusing coda at the end to drag a long process out even further. The circumstances of Blomkvist’s libel conviction are given sadly short shrift. “I was set up,” he complains, but not much effort goes to explaining how and by whom. Opley wastes some more time on a scene with Lisbeth’s mother, and in its valedictory lap the movie spells out (as does the novel) a shocking twist that any alert viewer will have seen coming from the beginning.
Still, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a handsome thriller, anchored by an arresting performance in the title role by Noomi Rapace. She will probably not still be in the picture when Hollywood gets its hands on it for the inevitable remake, reportedly with David Fincher (Se7en) at the helm, and more’s the pity.
© Text 2010 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be