An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)
PUBLISHED: 10:40 31 October 2018
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents his final idiosyncratic suggestion for a movie which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; dir: Niels Arden Oplev; starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube Cert: 18 (2009)
Forget the completely unnecessary 2011 Hollywood re-make, the original Swedish Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the film you need to see. It’s dark, it’s mysterious and it’s totally compelling. It works as a stand alone movie but does enough to set up the two sequels – Girl Who Played With Fire and Girl Who Kicked Over The Hornet’s Nest – which are subsequent chapters of the same story rather than attempts to over extend a simple idea.
It’s a complex story and with a running time of two-and-a-half hours, it’s not for the faint hearted, but it rewards its audience with an involving, extremely effective and well-made thriller. You really don’t notice the time passing.
The story centres on two very different people living in very different worlds. Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) is a journalist who has just lost a libel case. Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is a computer hacker with an unhappy past and has to fight every step of the way in order to live life on her own terms.
These two misfits are brought together when they both become intrigued by a 40-year-old mystery. The wealthy Henrik Vanger (Taube) hires Blomkvist to look into an old family mystery involving the disappearance of a 16-year-old girl nearly four decades earlier.
It turns out that Vanger only has a short time to live and wants to know what happened to his niece before he dies. All Blomkvist has to go on is a faded photograph. As he begins his investigation, he becomes aware that a shadowy young woman is following his every move.
He makes contact with his shadow who turns out to be the spiky Salander who reluctantly agrees to pool their resources to get to the bottom of this cold case. However, the more they strip away the surface details they start to unravel a family scandal that gets creepier with each discovery.
There are a lot of skeletons in a lot of closets and suddenly Vanger’s family become the prime suspects and Mikael and Lisbeth are in real danger. It is clear that something is not right.
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a character mystery and director Niels Arden Oplev explores the crime in almost pathological detail. We are investigating this cold case crime alongside Mikael and Lisbeth.
Characters are given room to blossom and sub-plots are developed which are later returned to in later films. But this is a first-rate thriller and one in which the Swedish landscape and Hedeby Island becomes an additional character in its own right.
Surrounded by forests and the sea, we are acutely aware that a single bridge is the only escape route back to the mainland and this generates a wonderful sense of suspense and claustrophobia. Oplev works hard to give the film a very distinctive sense of atmosphere.
The photography is stunningly beautiful and the island’s isolation is very apparent and again makes you wonder what could go on here without the rest of the world knowing.
Not everything in the film is a comfortable watch. The rape scenes early in the film are particularly brutal but they do provide motivation and context for what follows later.
It also provides something for Blomkvist and Salander to react to. Mikael is a good man who desperately wants to set things right while Lisbeth is full of bitter resentment and pent up fury. Instead of taking these character traits on trust we see where they have come from and what kind of people they really are. We understand that sometimes someone’s public face doesn’t tell the whole story.
Despite some excellent performances from everyone, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is Noomi Rapace’s film. She turns what could have been a really unlikeable character into a sympathetic heroine without sacrificing any of her anger or bloody-mindedness. It’s a real achievement.
Not only do we enjoy spending time with her but we are more than willing to come back and see how her story turns out by watching the two following movies which explore scenes and situations set up by this first film.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a bold and distinctive film. It is compelling and offers audiences something engaging and different. This is why the Hollywood version looked somewhat bland by comparison. This original film is something that demands multiple viewings and each time you see something different.