‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ Entertains Rather Than Exhilarates

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Average: 3.8 (4 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Literary mysteries are harder to adapt for the big screen than one might assume. The trick is to make audiences feel like they’re discovering secrets right alongside the characters. We want to share in their exhilaration, their terror, their epiphanies.

We don’t want wordy explanations, which are the only “thrills” offered from Ron Howard’s botched “Da Vinci Code” films. We want an out-of-body experience, which is exactly what a film like Guillaume Canet’s “Tell No One” delivers. Canet adapted Harlan Coben’s novel in a way that allowed viewers to follow in the footsteps of his protagonist as he uncovered one stunning secret after another. It was a commercial triumph at art houses across America, and now “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” seems to be aiming for a similar success. And while it is no “Tell No One,” it is certainly no “Da Vinci Code” either.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Photo credit: Music Box Films

The film’s massive financial success in Sweden may be partly due to the popularity of the source material. “Dragon Tattoo” is based on the first book in the bestselling “Millennium Trilogy” by Stieg Larsson, who died before its publication. There are enough subplots and backstories in this initial cinematic installment to fill a miniseries, and there are times when it seems overcrowded even at a running time of two-and-a-half hours. The script by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg doesn’t quite feel like a final draft (and could’ve benefitted from some tightening), but director Niels Arden Oplev somehow manages to keep the audience hooked.

Like “Tell No One,” the central mystery in “Dragon Tattoo” concerns the inexplicable disappearance of a beloved woman. Disgraced journalist Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) finds himself in a rut after his publication is accused of libel. In need of an escape, he decides to investigate a case brought to him by an elderly industrialist, who suspects that his wealthy family did away with his beloved niece forty years ago. Her framed face haunts the proceedings like Laura Palmer in “Twin Peaks,” as Mikael quickly finds himself immersed in a case loaded with prime suspects and red herrings.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Photo credit: Music Box Films

In a parallel subplot, a mysterious Goth girl with a dark past is trapped in an abusive relationship with her perverted guardian, who routinely blackmails her for sexual favors. The scenes between the two of them are tough to take, even in the context of a gruesome whodunit, but thankfully the girl, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), achieves the upper-hand before the second act can commence. And it’s in the second hour when the film really catches fire, as Mikael joins forces with Lisbeth, who proves herself to be a badass Miss Marple for the Gen Y set. Her computer-hacking skills are as formidable as her violent tendencies, though Rapace refuses to make her a two-dimensional stereotype of tough-girl feminism. The film is at its strongest when it simply observes the tender relationship dynamic between the soft-spoken journalist and the brooding tattooed girl that has become the object of his fascination (both Nyqvist and Rapace are excellent).

Yet for all its multi-leveled intrigue and various plot twists, the film never quite takes off. There are some frightfully tense moments and jump-worthy jolts, to be sure, but the plot is still a touch too muddled. When the final revelations come, they inspire more question marks than exclamation points. What’s more troubling is the film’s incessant depiction of abuse toward women. The original title of “Dragon Tattoo” translates as the none-too-subtle “Men Who Hate Women,” and though the film’s misogynistic characters are clearly depicted as evil monsters, it doesn’t make their scenes any less repellant or gratuitous.

That being said, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is often exceptionally entertaining, and does allow viewers to share in the thrill of the renegade detectives’ amateur sleuthing. Rapace infuses her enigmatic character with such fierce conviction and mesmerizing intensity that she alone makes me eager for the series’ future chapters. It’s refreshing to see a literary female heroine who isn’t dependent on any man…not even one with fangs.

‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ stars Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube and Peter Andersson. It was written by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg and directed by Niels Arden Oplev. It opened on March 19th at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

hhuie's picture

Looking forward to the other two films

Going into it, I didn’t realize it was two and half hours and it really feels shorter than that so the film moves along with few boring parts. The film gives Lisbeth a lot of backstory, but little by little, to let us know why she is the way she is, and she is a survivor. By the end of the film both she and Mikael have come full circle to the thing that has made them what they are today, confronted it and rise above it. The relationship between the two is built up slowly with Lisbeth always being the cautious one due to the pains of her past, and Mikael just going with the flow and not pushing her to reveal herself.

I am looking forward to the release of the other films in this series.

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