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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

February 24, 2013

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Actors: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Synopsis: Controversial journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist), awaiting jail after being framed for libel, is invited by industrial magnate Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to solve the forty year long mystery of his niece’s disappearance. Punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), with a personal history of abuse by men, joins Blomqvist to help crack the case.

Review: Appropriately enough, given that the reason the film came into being in the first place was because of its roaring success as a series of popular crime novels, the Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shares the successes and compromises one would associate with a piece of trashy fiction. 

On the plus side, it’s the equivalent of a great page-turner: never less than gripping and the three-hour running time just flies by. The two lead actors, Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace, also do a fantastic job with their colourful roles. Nyqvist’s crumpled, careworn face speaks volumes of his character’s years spent as a hard-living, hard-working guerrilla journalist, and Rapace brilliantly realises the improbable role of punk social pariah who also just happens to be a genius computer hacker and researcher.

Unfortunately, if you scrape beneath the veneer of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s gilded surface, you’ll find a film dealing in hackneyed horror tropes and employing a highly slippery and questionable toxic masculinity thesis. To cover the over-familiarity of the film’s grammar first, the Harriet Vanger subplot is particularly generic with its Agatha Christie-inspired list of possible family murderers and its hokum spook effects such as the eerie photography of Harriet as a girl and ‘things that go bump in the night’ when Mikael investigates various members of the Vanger clan. As for the whole Lisbeth characterisation, the scene where Bjurman (Lisbeth’s legal guardian) violently abuses her is more than a little unpalatable. Its graphic sadism seems to have no greater purpose than to bludgeon the audience into buying into Lisbeth as bastion of an unimpeachable pseudo-feminist icon. The irony being that this subplot (and in fact the whole concept of Lisbeth) is not really an avowal of feminism, but simply plays into the notion that she is as sentimentally damaged and defined by her relationships with men as any other more conventional Hollywood heroine. (February 2013)

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