Millennium: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

Millennium: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
"Tension between two locations enables Oplev to almost get away with an early glacial pace."

Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is an extraordinary, almost preternatural, literary creation. Elfin in form, gothic in dress, you fear she could be completely lost to the darkness if it wasn’t for the moon skin and ferocious attitude that’s as piercing as her intellect when it comes to tech-sleuthing.

She is so vividly and uniquely realised by author Stieg Larsson that you would think her a nightmare to cast. But in actress Noomi Rapace they have found her equal. She captures all the autistic temperament and prickly vulnerability that personifies the character. A far more complex and intriguing proposition than the hysterical caricatures that are the norm in Hollywood these days.

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Director Niels Arden Oplev is clearly charmed, making his adaptation more about her as an agent, than the ostensible hero. Her story becomes irrevocably intertwined with the 40-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, member of a clan of wealthy Swedish industrialists. A disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), is invited to their home on isolated Hedeby Island, asked to investigate which, unbeknownst to him, sets him on the same course as Salander.

Their bond is noticeable from the moment Mikael is given an account of the day of Harriet’s disappearance. All the desperation and sadness contained in the story bleeds into Lisbeth’s world as she meets with her state-appointed guardian and suffers his sexually explicit questions. She becomes the dark mirror for all the violence implied in the mystery. Violence perpetrated entirely by men.

With the original novel’s title translating to ‘Men Who Hate Women’, this shouldn’t be such a surprise, however the excision of two relatively benevolent male characters has made the film a far bleaker prospect. Salander tossed like a porcelain doll from an assault in the subway, to a forced sex act to, ultimately, a brutal rape.

Her revenge is just as unpleasant, and it is at this point that film comes perilously close to veering into empty exploitation. Thankfully, Oplev maintains that connection with Mikael, contrasting the oily gloom from where Salander hacks and tracks the progress of the investigation with the beautiful, yet unforgiving, snowy landscape of Hedeby.

It’s this tension between the two locations that enables Oplev to almost get away with an early glacial pace. While it’s one that suits the story and the isolated setting, it cannot hide the damage the adaptation has done to the character of Mikael. With few references to a career, his frustrations at losing his journalistic voice, his crusade against corporate corruption or even much of a personal life, Nyqvist has almost nothing to build a performance on except for a furrowed brow and some energetic sifting of photographs. It makes for an uneven first half.

Once Salander turns up with a vital clue, the tempo shifts and the connection between the pair deepens. It’s a strange courtship, one that began on Salander’s computer screen where Mikael was manageable; prevented from abusing, seducing or asking personal questions. It reveals the inherent hypocrisy of her personality, as she refuses to let people in while at the same time slipping past encryption and code to invade their privacy. Though they end up in bed, it’s Salander that’s the aggressor, caring more for her satisfaction and shying away from the afterglow as if it might burn her up.

This is tentative romance, a subtle stripping away of psyche and the slow-burn suspense of a locked room mystery, all of which Oplev orchestrates with a mixture of precise camera work and carefully composed wide-screen that isolates, ensnares and embraces our characters as they reach the fiery resolution of the mystery.

It’s sad to see that control slip away in the climax which attempts to throw back in as much of the remaining material from the novel, just in a compressed state that leaves any triumphs hollow and ineffectual. It’s a sad irony that the worst treatment is reserved for Salander. The farewell that had a refreshing tang of bitterness on the page replaced with hopeless Hollywood convention.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2010
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Millennium: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo packshot
A disgraced journalist and a computer hacker stumble on a chain of undiscovered serial killings.
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Jennie Kermode ****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


Glasgow 2010

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