FILM REVIEW – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

By Joseph Viney


What have the Swedes ever done for us, eh? Saunas, au pairs, Ulrika Jonsson, Henrik Larsson; what have they ever done for us?!

As far as the world of cinema goes, seems like they’ve hit an unsuspecting audience with a decent double whammy. Firstly, 2009’s crotch-grabbingly excellent Let The Right One In and now this year’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Adapted from Steig Larsson’s successful novel of the same name (though known in Sweden as Men Who Hate Women), the film marks the second time in less than 12 months that a Swedish subtitled film will make a box office splash on these shores.

Fans of the book should be warned that a large amount of the source material has been shed to make the film appear sleeker. Gone are a large number of peripheral characters and side plots. In its place a more direct story and a thinner cast.

Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged and surprisingly podgy investigative journalist for Millennium magazine, is sentenced to three months in prison after losing a libel case against multi-millionaire magnate Hans-Erik Wennerstrom.

In the time between sentencing and actually going to prison, Blomkvist is hired by Henrik Vanger, a wealthy old man and former CEO of a number of companies owned by the wealthy, powerful and secretive Vanger Dynasty.

Now, we may need a Legal Ed to shine a light on this but I always thought that once a sentence is passed in court the defendant must then begin serving it straight away.

Vanger, made aware of Blomkvist through the highly publicised trial, hires him to research a mystery that has plagued him and the Vanger family for 40 years; the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a 16 year old girl.

Henrik Vanger is convinced Harriet was murdered by one of the Vanger family. Blomkvist has cases of useless files and a botched police investigation to get through before he can even come close to the answer.

I’ll be honest with you, dear reader, I can’t tell you about the appearance of the enigmatic and strangely attractive Lisbeth Salander without ruining too much of the film. So I won’t. She appears, comes to the aid of Blomkvist in his quest and the focus of the film shifts entirely onto her.

Played with a chilling precision by Noomi Rapace, Salander is a purposefully strange character; miserable, silent and yet still exuding a large amount of sexual tension upon all those she encounters. Flashbacks hint at a troubled past and a number of incidents highlight a troubled present. Salander must endure sexual abuse at the hands of her legal guardian and more than once the audience is made subject to some truly uncomfortable and perhaps unnecessarily extensive scenes of rape and abuse.

Rather handily, Salander happens to be a complete whiz at computers. She can hack in to any system, commit names and numbers to her photographic memory and is a dab hand with a motorbike and hand held weaponry. All useful attributes for a young woman in the modern age and sure enough she requires all of these skills and more as she and Blomkvist get closer to cracking the riddle.

The film’s setting and plot as dictated by the book means it can be a little confused as to what genre it wants to be. Both the surroundings, an isolated island in the north of Sweden, and the story itself, which is effectively a case study, mean that director Niels Arden Oplev has to make the most of the action sequences and dialogue that present themselves.

Luckily, he has taken the time to pare down the book neatly and translate it to a cinema sized chunk. The temptation is there to blitz through all of the early scenes and get to the somewhat disturbing climax but it is paced well and saves the best of the twists, turns and fireballs until last.

Still, depending upon how perceptive you are as a viewer then there are a number of elements within the ending that you can see coming a whole Swedish country mile off.

Disappointingly, not much is made of the eponymous dragon tattoo either. We are aware that Salander has one (and it’s an ugly tattoo at that) but absolutely no mention is made of it. The film could well have been called Goth Girl Is Wary Of Men. This is not the fault of the film makers, instead that falls upon the mystifying decision to change the name of the book for the international market.

Also, the character of Mikael Blomkvist is nothing more than animated scenery throughout. Given that the entire premise of the story rests upon him, he serves only as foil for the progression and quirks of Salander. With most of Blomkvist’s character arcs being cut out of the adaptation he is left looking like a mannequin only serving as a link between the story and Salander’s inevitable intervention. With any luck, this film should be a launch pad for Rapace’s career in Hollywood or at the very least further recognition.

Despite that, the film is a neat little package. There’s plenty of action, explosions, good dialogue and atmosphere to keep the vast majority of cinema audiences entertained, with enough detective work, twists, turns and mystery to keep those averse to action immersed. Something tells me that Hollywood at some stage passed on the chance to make this film and left the Swedes to it. No doubt, given any decent box office returns expect a lame American remake at some point further down the line.

7 OUT OF 10


Filed under Film

5 responses to “FILM REVIEW – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

  1. “Now, we may need a Legal Ed to shine a light on this but I always thought that once a sentence is passed in court the defendant must then begin serving it straight away.”

    I’m from Norway myself, and when it comes to serving in prison that is exactly like Sweden.
    Except for people convicted of murder and other very violent crimes you usually have to wait in a “prison-queue” to serve time.
    This has at time been controversial since some people commit more crimes while waiting to serve their sentence.
    But for the type of crime Blomkvist is convicted of it’s not unusual to have to wait up to a year or more.
    You can even get smaller sentences scheduled around other commitments. Some people serve DUI sentences during their holidays off from work.

    • Joseph Viney

      Thank you for clearing that up for me, Ole.

      It seems a strange way to conduct business but there you go!

  2. To answer the opening question: Well, there’s that little company called IKEA. In the film world, of course, Ingmar Bergman. But don’t thank the Swedes for sauna, since that comes from Finland 😉

    Swedish country mile = kilometer

    To give Mikael some credit, he is a side-character. I think his role, at least in the books and partly in the film, is to provide someone who accepts Lisbeth and gets her to open up a bit. This way she is forced to adapt and change her behaviour towards a man who, surprisingly to Lisbeth, doesn’t hate women.

    Those extensive rape scenes were something I haven’t seen in cinema before, and many won’t see in mainstream theaters. The movie showed how gruesome a rape is, which will hopefully make people think. Perhaps something should be done so that it doesn’t happen to so many women any longer.

    I’m glad to see that cinema from our side of the Atlantic is widely reviewed and showed on your side of the pond.

    • Joseph Viney

      How could I forget Ikea? Or Sven Goran Eriksson? Oh well, the next Swedish film I review I’ll make sure those two get a mention!

      For Mikael, I was under pressure to express disappointment as according to my girlfriend he “…wasn’t as handsome as he sounds in the books”. I suppose I should be worried, but I still think Mikael is a disappointment. He has a good personality and side plot in the book which is just cut away. I know something had to go for the film but still.

      Are there any other Swedish films you could recommend?

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