Monday, 26 July 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009) Review

Noomi Rapace stars in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo...

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first in an already-filmed Swedish trilogy based on the books by the late Stieg Larsson, landed in UK cinemas this March to major critical acclaim. Hailed as one of the best thrillers of the year with a strong heroine and a dark, consistent tone, it seems everyone has fallen head over heels for the tale of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), an introverted, tattooed computer hacker who aids disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) in his search for a girl who disappeared 40 years ago - and is presumed by everyone but her Uncle to be dead. The DVD, released today, will likely sell many copies before follow-up The Girl Who Played With Fire (Daniel Alfredson, 2009) hits cinemas this summer. Sadly, upon my much anticipated viewing of the story starter this morning, this critic won't be onboard the hype train.

The plot, very clearly adapted from a novel as thick as a door-wedge, has many strands, themes and character arcs. Problems begin in the first 30 minutes, which are dedicated to establishing character. Mikael is perfectly fine - his arc is an outward exploration, juxtaposed against the introverted depths of Salander. He's facing a prison sentence following a scandal in his journalistic career - everybody knows who he is and nobody trusts him. So when a stranger comes out of the blue and places 40 years worth of secrets on his shoulders, his arc becomes one of redemption. He solves the case and his personal journey is complete. Because of the nature of the trilogy Lisbeth's arc feels much more uncomfortable and this is the film's biggest downfall - its baggage. One of the first things we learn about Lisbeth is that she's on probation and attends meetings with a guardian whenever she needs money. The officer is a misogynist pervert (in fact, misogyny is a theme that runs through the film and provides parallels with the main missing person plot) and in one dark scene he rapes her. Lisbeth takes her revenge by torturing him, threatening him with legal action and then the arc is never mentioned again. Very little is revealed about Lisbeth and her motives and the excuse given is that her character (and indeed this arc) plays a bigger part in the sequels. Such is the nature of adaptation. But ultimately I shouldn't have to sit through three movies to feel comfortable with one, and the way in which the filmmakers abandon such a grueling and affecting scene is infuriating. Indeed, The Girl Who Played With Fire has a lot to answer for.

The rest of the cast do reasonably well in their roles and the film isn't without merit. It's at times contrived and way, way too long (Zodiac, David Fincher, 2007, is roughly the same length and spans a crime story over decades) but it's a well put together piece of cinema with an atmospheric score and cinematography that sets a pretty bleak tone. The central theme of the film is also interesting and may have played better under its alternative title; Men Who Hate Women. The aforementioned parallel between Lisbeth and Harriet (the missing girl) and the circumstances in which they have been mistreated are quite compelling but incidental as the film never really makes anything of them. Strangely this is a film that would have benefitted from shaving a half hour from the running time and playing as a straight thriller as the plot revelations and suspense set-pieces are truly gripping. But it plays on several different planes and ties nothing together. It could be that when the pieces fall together in the trilogy finale and the jigsaw of Lisbeth is complete I will look back on this film more fondly. But I also get the feeling that after a further four and a half hours of viewing I simply won't have the energy or patience to look at this in a different light. And why should I? The constant gearshifts and uneasy approach to sexual abuse will likely still feel out of place in a thriller that, for once, was begging out for formula.

DVD Extras: Interviews, including one with Rapace which, while revealing nothing interesting about the film, shows exactly how good her performance is, sharing no traceable connection to her onscreen character. The original UK trailer and sneak-peek at sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire are also included.

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