23 July 2010


As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Coming to this a little late, but it's still a timely juncture to review the first film based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as the film is released on DVD this week. Parts 2 and 3 are due later in 2010, so you'll see reviews of those as I try my utmost to catch them in cinemas.

The trilogy follows an altruistic journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, as he becomes entangled with a haunted and intelligent hacker, Lisbeth Salander. In this first instalment, Blomkvist loses a legal battle with a corrupt business tycoon and is sentenced to three months in prison for libel. With a six month reprieve, he's enlisted to solve a 40 year old cold case involving a powerful industrial family, drawing Lisbeth's attention in the process...

All three films in the trilogy were released in 2009 in mainland Europe, and with the books' worldwide success, a similar release of all three films in the UK and America began in March. It's a schedule that I'm very pleased with indeed, because The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a film that gripped me mercilessly, and at the back end of watching it, I was dying to see what happens next.

For one thing, it's intensely and deliberately constructed to lift the murder mystery off the page and onto the screen. The film itself feels almost literary, and the way it assembles its narrative elements is entirely dissimilar to the Hollywood production line of crime thrillers. There's one major action sequence to be found here, and though it serves as the resolution of the mystery, it's not the climax of the film, which comes as a more satisfying and cerebral finale.

There's a lot to be applauded in the structure, which keeps the intrigue bubbling away for the film's 150 minutes, but it's almost difficult to see such mechanics past the glowing central performance. Noomi Rapace plays Lisbeth magnificently, and its refreshing to see a female character like hers so finely detailed and realised. Her story unfolds parallel to Blomkvist's for the first part of the film, and you can't help but wonder where her story's going everytime she's off screen.

It's not that Michael Nyqvist isn't compelling as Blomkvist, because he is. It's just that while he is at most a facsimile of other virtuous journalists on film like Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in All The President's Men, Lisbeth is something else entirely. Larsson apparently conceived her as a grown-up Pippi Longstocking, and the sexual politics within that framework are markedly different, and she spearheads the film's indictment of patriarchy and, as the Swedish title puts it, of Men Who Hate Women.

As usual when a film depicts violence towards women, you may have already heard how disgusting scenes between Lisbeth and her probationary guardian are, but be assured that Lisbeth doesn't let herself become a victim or a damsel- she's much more capable than that. When she gives sex thereafter, she never falls into bed like other female leads so much as she reclines into bed on her terms. And once she's done, it's the act of making an emotional connection that holds much more fear to her.

This is brought to life better than I'm describing it, and so it's best to watch the film and see how good she really is. The fact that I've given so much of the review over to her highlights the film's problem though. With the two subsequent films in mind, so much of this is to establish our two central characters that it feels almost like the pilot for a TV detective series. There's nothing wrong with being character-driven rather than plot-driven, but it's a pretty decent plot that ultimately recedes in importance as the film goes on.

With that in mind, I can't help but wonder how different the announced English language remake will be. It'll presumably be a lot less subtle, but when a performance is as integral as Noomi Rapace is here, I can't see it translating too well. The only actress I could credit with taking over as Lisbeth would be Ellen Page, and my interest in the remake will automatically go up several notches if they fix that. It's still likely to be inferior to this version though- they're still setting it in Sweden, so I can only assume they'll take the Valkyrie approach of letting the big stars talk normally and burden others with attempting an accent like that chef on the Muppets.

It doesn't feel as long as it actually is but it's still vigorously uncomfortable to watch. If you're any kind of film fan, you should be catching up with the story so far while it's one instalment in, so you can catch the other two in cinemas later this year. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo makes a superbly watchable thriller from a strong mystery plot and some breathtaking performances. The trilogy has every chance of getting better now that we're acquainted with its players, but it's certainly made an impressive start. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Part 2, The Girl Who Played With Fire arrives in selected UK cinemas on August 27th, with Part 3, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest scheduled before the end of the year.
If you've seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, why not share your comments below? If you're discouraged by the idea that it's like a TV murder mystery pilot, be assured it has a lot more teeth than the likes of Midsomer Murders.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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