Millennium: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Millennium: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Adapting a book for the screen is always a difficult job, especially when it's a bestseller which has also received literary acclaim, and especially when it has characters as vivid as Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Fans of this particular novel will be relieved to know that Niels Arden Oplev has done a superb job. Those who haven't yet read the book will find the film a compelling piece of work in its own right.

The story centres on two very different characters whose worlds collide when they both become intrigued by a 40-year-old mystery. Michael Nyqvist is Mikael, an award-winning journalist now looking forward to time in prison after pissing off somebody with better lawyers than him. Noomi Rapace is Lisbeth, a computer hacker with a violent past who is used to having to fight every step of the way in order to live life on her own terms. Julia Sporre is the young woman whose eyes gaze out at them from an old photograph, like Otto Preminger or David Lynch's Lauras. Her uncle has searched for her since the day she disappeared and now he wants Mikael's help to make one last stab at uncovering her fate before he dies. The trouble is that, with his own family as suspects, the search for the truth risks uncovering a lot of skeletons in closets, and it could put Mikael in very immediate danger.

Copy picture

By choosing to make his film almost two and a half hours long, Oplev has given himself room to explore his story at just the right pace, with properly developed subplots and an appropriately strong sense of who everybody is. It was a big risk, of course - financiers and distributors are often wary of such films and members of the public hesitate to go and see them, but you'd be an idiot to miss this one.

Whilst the story is ultimately fairly straightforward thriller stuff, the things it has to say are anything but. It's also a stunningly beautiful, atmospheric piece of work in which the frozen landscape of Hedeby island is a character in its own right. Open vistas of forest and sea combine with our awareness that the only escape route is by a single bridge to create a sense of a claustrophobic environment in which the usual rules of human interaction might easily cease to apply.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo's most striking subject is misogyny. Several critics have referred to this as "the misogyny inherent in Swedish society", or made similar efforts to localise it, but really it's much more wide-ranging in its scope, and cinema itself is one of its targets. It plays with our expectations about what happens to attractive young women in films and thus sets up a series of challenges.

Early rape scenes are particularly brutal and many viewers will find them hard to watch, but they are also interesting in the amount of agency they give to the woman involved, forcing the audience to identify with rather than objectify her. The careful balance between the two leads enables us to see clearly the different ways in which each is affected by the discovery of a young woman's death.

Mikael is a good man who desperately wants to set things right, but he struggles to relate to the visceral fury experienced by Lisbeth, who experiences this revelation as part of a bigger picture - one in which young men think they have the right to knock a woman aside in the street, one in which she was considered insane for fighting back against an abusive father, one in which, when certain sorts of women disappear, nobody bothers to investigate. Her bitterness is palpable and it's a smack in the face for male viewers who watch movies about murdered women night after night without ever thinking about what this means.

For Lisbeth, smacking people in the face might easily be physical, too. She's not always a likeable character but Rapace's performance is compelling. Some viewers will be reminded of the heroine of Smilla's Feeling For Snow, but in this case there has been no softening of the character for the film. Alongside her, Nyqvist faces a difficult task keeping viewers interested in his part of the story, and that he does so is a credit to a much more understated but beautifully judged acting style.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a film which could easily have gone horribly wrong. We can not only celebrate the fact it didn't; we can enjoy a bold, distinctive piece of cinema worth coming back to again and again.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2010
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A disgraced journalist and a computer hacker stumble on a chain of undiscovered serial killings.
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Nick Da Costa ***1/2

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Writer: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg, Stieg Larsson

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Andersson, Peter Haber, Marika Lagercrantz, Lena Endre, Ingvar Hirdwall, Gösta Bredefeldt, Björn Granath, Ewa Fröling, Stefan Sauk, Gunnel Lindblom, Willie Andréason, Tomas Köhler

Year: 2009

Runtime: 152 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Sweden, Denmark, Germany

Festivals:

Glasgow 2010

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