Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy came out of nowhere to become the biggest publishing phenomenon since Harry Potter. With the David Fincher directed Hollywood movie of the first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ready for release in December, now seems like a good time to revisit the original films. Like the novels, these are all-Swedish affairs, and have been released over the last couple of years. But are they much for the new version to live up to?
The plot of the first book and film revolves around two central figures – Micke Blomkvist, an investigative journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo, who runs background checks for a security firm. Her speciality is gathering information on her subjects by hacking into their computers. Heavily tattooed, withdrawn and intense, Salander is not someone who is comfortable in the world.
Blomkvist by contrast, is normally urbane and successful, but at the start of the movie he appears to be all washed up following defeat in a libel case. His journalistic career is surely finished, but out of nowhere he is asked to investigate the mystery of a girl who disappeared 40 years previously, and whose killer appears to be sending wild flowers to her grieving uncle every year. It is the uncle that chooses Blomkvist for the job, and does so based on a favourable background check performed by Salander. After her ‘official’ work is over, Salander takes an interest in the case, and in Blomkvist himself, and from then it’s only a matter of time until their paths cross…
The film is a slightly strange hybrid – as the two go about their investigation, it often resembles the kind of cosy Sunday night detective dramas that we’re so used to, but then there are the strong scenes of violence – much of it sexual – which jar with these familiar elements. The working title for the novel was Men Who Hate Women and this is reflected in the sadistic and misogynsitic traits that many of the characters display, which lead to some pretty unpleasant moments.
The source novel is not a short book and so decisions have had to be made by the director, Niels Arden Oplev, about what to keep and what to cut and most of the decisions feel like good ones. A lot of the material around Blomkvist’s work at his magazine has been cut, and the tying up of loose ends that padded out the novel has been reduced. However, this still leaves a lot of story, which means that there’s no opportunity for the film to take its time at any stage – and despite its lengthy running time, occasionally it does feel hurried. An unqualified positive is the performance of Noomi Rapace, who plays the titular Lisbeth Salander with a fierce intensity combined with fragility and a thousand yard stare that warns that she’s not to be trifled with.
Finally, one of the main difficulties for the movie is that so many people in the audience will be familiar with the plot. This is a real problem for a thriller – when you know whodunit from the start, it’s difficult for the director to crank up the tension. If you do happen to know the plot, there’s not a huge amount of anything else in the film to divert you. The direction is competent, but there’s nothing particularly eyecatching and there are few really memorable scenes or set-pieces. The problem this familiarity brings isn’t going to go away for Fincher so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with.