Sunday, 28 October 2012

Film Review | The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo [Män Som Hatar Kvinnor] (2009)

The original Swedish title for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, both the film and the novel upon which this film is based, is "Män Som Hatar Kvinnor", which translates literally as "Men Who Hate Women". After watching the film it's clear to see why author Stieg Larsson chose that title; it encapsulates much more effectively the story's wider themes and intertwined plot threads than the catchy, but ultimately narrow-focused, English title.

The film focuses on Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a publisher for "Millennium" magazine who has recently lost a libel case. Blomkvist chooses to take a leave of absence from the magazine and takes up an investigation into the disappearance of Harriet Vanger decades earlier on the instruction of Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), Harriet's great uncle. Meanwhile, Henrik's lawyer Dirch Frode (Ingvar Hirdwall) has hired surveillance expert Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to investigate Blomkvist and assess his suitability in undertaking the investigation.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo's story is probably its greatest strength. I've not read Larsson's novel, but on the strength of what I've seen in the film adaptation I would very much like to. The mystery thriller at the film's heart is what drives it along, and at times it seems to be the only thing that is managing to do so, as when the film focuses more on the relationships between characters it slows down a little too much here and there.

Rapace is excellent as Lisbeth Salander, her turn both enigmatic and hard-hitting throughout. The rest of the cast are sound, but without any standout performances. I would have liked to see Nyqvist make a little more of Blomkvist than he does here; his performance is fine, but never manages to make the character as interesting as a disgraced publisher investigating a disappearance and potential murder should be.

The direction from Niels Arden Oplev is also pleasing, making as he does the various reveals as the mystery is gradually uncovered throughout the film intriguing and compelling. His handling of the film's more graphic elements, such as Lisbeth's relationship with abusive lawyer Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), is also well balanced. It's just a shame that these elements at times feel too episodic, with characters such as Bjurman inserted in to "tell" us something about Lisbeth or another character, only to be forgotten for a large part of the film because they've become unnecessary. In a film with such an intricately constructed mystery at its core, writing such as this just feels slapdash.

I left The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo feeling satisfied, but very aware that what I had watched was nothing particularly special. The film has standout elements, with Rapace being the most obvious one, but never does anything to warrant considering it anything more than a functional and enjoyable thriller. It's worth watching certainly, but this will never achieve the international acclaim Larsson's novel and its two follow-ups have received.


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