The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: The Movie (2009)

Update Feb. 13: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo just won BAFTA’s Best Film Not In The English Language.

Summertime… and the viewing is chilling.

By now, we North Americans have caught the blazing heat that had swept other parts of the world a few years back, as we get the English translation of the Millennium Trilogy:  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and last of the series, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest.  All three books dominate the New York Times Best Seller Lists: When I last checked, the first two novels occupied the first and second places on the Paperback Trade and Mass-Market Lists, the newly published third title quickly claimed its second place on the Hardcover List.  The Trilogy has sold more than 27 million copies in 41 countries world wide.

It’s just too sad that the Swedish author did not get a taste of his own success.  Stieg Larsson died in 2004 of a heart attack at 50.  All three books were published posthumously.  Before his fame as a writer and journalist, Larsson had championed against racism and right-wing extremism for decades.

Those who frequent Ripple Effects might know, I’m interested in the transforming of books into films.  There are many instances where I would read the book first before seeing the movie.  But here’s an exception.  I’m glad I went into the movie theatre knowing nothing about the story.  Because of that, I was held on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, my mind fully engaged, all 152 minutes of it.

The story begins with a high profile journalist with Stockholm’s Millennium Publication, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), losing a libel suit brought on by a corrupt financial giant. Blomkvist is given half a year of freedom before serving a three-month jail term. Meanwhile, the reclusive industrial tycoon Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) approaches and hires the disgraced journalist to investigate the disappearance and likely murder of his beloved niece Harriet Vanger 40 years ago, a unique assignment that intrigues Blomkvist.  Initially, Vanger has recruited Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a ‘researcher’ with a security firm, to do a background check on Blomkvist. Lisbeth is in fact an expert hacker. Believing Blomkvist to be set up in the libel suit, she continues to track him, and the two finally meet up and join hands in search of the truth behind the disappearance of Harriet Vanger… and a bit more.

This is one engrossing and highly suspenseful piece of filmmaking in the crime thriller genre.  First off, the cinematography and the overall visual tonality is reminiscent of film noir, setting the mood effectively.  As well, the many Vermeer moments wherein the playout of light and shadows reflect aptly the complexity of the characters.  The revealing of hidden facts and personal secrets drive the riveting momentum.  Pacing is suitably executed.  While it’s not your bullet-speed Bourne flick, it unfolds the story smoothly, allowing some real acting to take place.  There are effective action sequences and some poignant moments.  And yes, there are also scenes where the audience could well be aware that their emotions are being led towards an intended end.  As witness of a violent crime against the heroine, the audience is pulled to a cathartic revenge, and feels okay with it.  Herein lies the effectiveness of the film.  Less obscure is the original Swedish title: “Men Who Hate Women”.  So the warning is: graphic violence.  But it’s not gratuitous and I have to say, only reveals the reality of how low and depraved human can be.

 

Another measure of success is how quickly the film has elicited my empathy and even compassion for the female protagonist.  It can make an ear and nose-pierced, misanthropic, rage-wrapped goth to become the heroine within minutes into the film.  This idea is original, iconoclastic, and timely too.  It draws us from the surface of looks and attire into understanding one’s psyche, to see how past experiences mould a life.  There are layers of truths to be understood if one is willing to go past the facade.

Condensing 600 some pages (Paperback) into 152 minutes must be an arduous task.  A lot of details are bound to be put aside.  But with every adaptation, the movie ought to be viewed as a totally different medium, and not be judged by how literal the transformation is.  Turning words into visuals has always been the demanding job of the screenwriter but also the realization of a vision from the director.  As a movie viewer, I’ve appreciated the work as a congruent whole, very well edited and all loose ends tied, even opening a tiny portal for the sequels coming up.

Shot entirely on location in Sweden, the work is an artful piece of filmmaking.  The wintry Swedish landscape is a quiet visual relief for our hot summer months. The movie has garnered several noms and awards, most notably The Swedish Guldbagge Awards in Best Film for director Niels Arden Oplev and Best Actress for Noomi Rapace.  It was also honored with the Audience Award at the Palm Springs IFF.

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But will the movie and its two sequels gather as much hype as the novels?  Here in English only North America, I’m afraid not, at least not with the Swedish versions. Here are the stats if you’re interested. Watching a movie with subtitles is much more common in other parts of the globe than here.  Thus prompts Hollywood to plan for an English version. Well, is it language or profit?

My recommendation is: go for the Swedish one.  See a film in its most authentic adaptation, Swedish setting, original language dialogues, and superb performance.  Don’t let Hollywood distract you from the real thing. There have been rumors of Carey Mulligan, Natalie Portman, and Kristen Stewart taking the role as Lisbeth Salander, and Daniel Craig, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney as Blomkvist.  Well, if they must make an English version, my picks for the leads are Ellen Page and Jeremy Renner.

But no matter what, the Swedish original is a hard act to follow.  It’s now on DVD and Blu-ray.  And if it’s still being shown in theatres in your area, nothing beats seeing a thriller on a sweltering summer day, or night, inside a cool, dark theatre.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples



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Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

13 thoughts on “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: The Movie (2009)”

  1. I had been curious when the books first came out and that now-familiar title was splashed everywhere. I still haven’t read the books, but appreciate your insightful review of the film. Thank you.
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    Go for the movie… it’s best that you haven’t read the book first. Afterwards you could check the original material if you like. I know the movie has left out a lot of details, but it’s very well done on its own.

    Arti

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  2. Hello Arti – lovely review! – I agree wholeheartedly with you about the Swedish film – you will be pleased to know that here in Burlington Vermont, where we have one small theater [among the numerous large movie houses] that plays the independents, the foreigns, etc, that this movie has been showing here Since It Came Out – this has restored my faith in the community! – Hollywood should leave well-enough alone [though I do like your picks for the leads – hope someone is watching…]
    Deb
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    Deb,

    Yes… good to hear that it has enjoyed such a long run. It was shown in an indie theatre here too but for a short engagement, and now the second one is screening in a cinemplex. Hopefully that would bring in more viewers. People should be exposed to films from other countries so they’ll know Hollywood does not hold exclusivity to movie making… and, above all, stardom isn’t the requirement for excellence… or even looks or language used. The second installment is out today and I’m looking forward to watching it. Also, I’m glad I’ve got a seconder for my picks. 🙂

    Arti

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  3. Thanks for the review, sure love to see this film but I’m afraid it won’t get to Hong Kong.
    Maybe one of these days, I can get the DVD.
    And to Deb (the lady from Vermont), just want to say that Burlington is one fine city. I love Vermont, especially the autumn.
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    MM,

    The books are popular the world over, maybe you’ll get to see it some day. Be sure to see the Swedish version though.

    Arti

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  4. See how far behind I am? I didn’t know anyone had made a movie of this book, the audio version of which I listened to in my car & nearly drove off the road at the scene you mention. Don’t think I could watch it onscreen. I liked the book immensely, and the narrator was Simon Vance, so you know he did an excellent job.
    I plan to borrow steal the other two books from the CS…
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    ds,

    I can only think of this comparison: Watching ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ sure is different than just reading it. This is exactly it… I think this is one of the best thrillers I’ve seen since TSOTL. It’s on DVD now. And, since you’re familiar with the story, you wouldn’t fall off your seat :). Watch it before Hollywood alters its authenticity.

    Arti

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  5. Oh – well. I just was about to say I probably wouldn’t be seeing the film since I just don’t enjoy subtitles, and hadn’t even heard of the books. But if it’s The Silence of the Lambs quality, I may have to rethink.

    Also, my interest was caught by the mention of the Goth protagonist. Even though I’ve dumped my tv, I will watch down at mom’s from time to time, and I’ve enjoyed Pauley Perette as the smart-as-a-whip Goth lab genius on NCIS. Film, tv and theatre seem especially suited to breaking down prejudices. I certainly wouldn’t want to pierce anything, but I don’t recoil from certain grocery store clerks like I used to!
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    Linda,

    Your comment prompted me to go check whether it’s goth or Goth. Anyway I found an amusing write-up at Urban Dictionary. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting too… not only just that word, but others as well.
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=goth (seems like both are okay)

    As to your reluctance to watch subtitled films, I’m sure this one will change your mind. You wouldn’t notice once you get into the story, which is very quickly, and you’d be surprised how some Swedish words are so similar to English. And yes, this is definitely TSOTL calibre… I wouldn’t hesitate to see it again, much more readily than TSOTL.

    Arti

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  6. I didn’t know there was a film either. I had heard about the books on NPR recently, and I was quite interested in the details about the protagonist.

    It really is getting annoying the way Hollywood films have to choose big, big stars to sell them, and so lesser known actors, who would be better in the roles, don’t get a chance to play them.

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    Ruth,

    It’s all about the figures… whoever that can rake in the most sales I suppose. That’s why I’m a supporter of indie films and ‘world cinema’. I’m afraid the trend is not only stardom and celeb actors, but the whole spectrum of techno-driven productions such as 3D and computer generated effects. Wouldn’t it be funny if one day even big starts might be declared redundant if a computer generated image can take their place.

    Arti

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  7. I was singularly unimpressed with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and yet today I just bought The Girl Who Played With Fire. Perhaps the hype had been built up too much in my mind for me to enjoy the first one, but I’m now ready for the second especially since I saw the film trailer for the first, as well as your review.

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    Bellezza,

    I haven’t read any of the books, since my TBR list is long enough and every one of Larsson’s Trilogy is so thick, even though they just might be ‘beach read’. The first movie is impressive. However, I can’t say that for the second one. It’s a different director and I’m afraid that accounts for the major difference… and I just checked he directed the third one too. As for the books, it’s more the idea of genre reading I guess. They’re not literature … you’ll have to love crime thrillers to enjoy them I suppose. And I read somewhere that Larsson wrote these novels for relaxation… and he’d written 9 or 10 of them, but just only 3 were complete enough to be published.

    Arti

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    1. he’d written 9 or 10 of them

      No, he’d planned to write that many, but died before he finished more than three. There is also a fourth novel which in his eyes wasn’t ready for publication but apparently is publication-worthy now after he has become such a big star … this will however not be published. His common law wife has possession of the book and she has agreed to not publish it in return for being cut in on some of the money his estranged father and brother are raking in as a result of his enormous success.

      It’s actually a pretty amazing story – she was the love of his life, but he chose to not marry her because all kinds of records are so very public in Sweden, and he had a number of death threats and other menaces hanging over him … so marrying her would have made her the potential target of a lot of unfortunate attention. He never wrote a proper will because he didn’t think he’d die that young. 😦 So when he did die, his legal heirs were his father and brother who he had had hardly any contact with for years and who didn’t even know him anymore. Now they are absolutely rolling in money and this woman that he loved gets pennies. There’s a story for a book, if you ask me.

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      Leisha,

      Thanks for furnishing all the info. Yes, you’re right. He had planned on writing 10 but got 3 completed, the 4th one partially done, and the synopsis of the fifth and sixth may also exist. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stieg_Larsson Larsson certainly is a prolific writer, with thrillers, sci-fi, and non-fiction works. His untimely death is definitely a loss.

      Thanks for reading my post and comments so carefully. 😉

      Arti

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  8. Aha! I was waiting for a good review before I put my foot into the “Girl with the” stream! I haven’t read the books yet; I gave them to husband for Xmas and have a personal rule that I won’t read stuff i give him until he does. So that it’s really “his” book. (sigh)
    But, that doesn’t mean I can’t see the movie; however, surrounded by indie film lovers though i am, they are not crazy about subtitles.
    I don’t care. I’ll give it a whirl, based on your review.
    Thanks, A!

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    oh,

    Yes, just go for the movie… it’s best that you haven’t read the book, you’ll enjoy it more I think. It’ll keep you in suspense with every twist and turn. This first installment is excellent. The second one is less intense.

    Arti

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  9. I loved this movie. It held me riveted from start to finish. The best thing about it was definitely the portrayal of the fascinating lead character, Lisbeth. It only took a few minutes before I was emotionally attached to her, and although the graphic violence was close to too much for me to stomach, I found myself wholly on Lisbeth’s side when she took out her vengeance on those who wronged her.

    A great review for a fantastic movie!
    .
    Adrianne,

    Wonder what you think of the other two sequels. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment!

    Arti

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  10. Typo: It’s Nyqvist, not Nygvist. The latter isn’t a name at all, or even a word … just a random jumble of letters. 🙂

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    Leisha,

    Thanks for pointing out the typo… correction made. 😉

    Arti

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  11. The novel is really rich in detail and quick paced — And incredibly moving in depicting the struggles faced by its female protagonist. This novel somehow brings off having two really well drawn protagonists, one male, one female that one can empathize with. I did not want the story to end. A middle aged journalist, and a troubled but incredibly talented young woman who works as a PI intersect to solve a labyrinthine plot. Lisbet’s story would have made an incredible novel on its own. She has Aspergers and is trapped in an awful school /social system with no advocates and non-existent mental health services. It is really dark in its themes somewhat like the Kite Runner. I cannot wait to read the sequels.

    All in all, its one of the best mystery /thrillers I’ve read from the last decade. In fact comparing it to the Da Vinci Code, the characters are not simplistic one dimensional cut outs at all. The rich characterizations and explorations of dark behaviour remind me of Elizabeth George. I’m waiting for the two final books of this trilogy. It is so sad that the author has passed away and we won’t be meeting the characters for more than just 3 books.

    Like

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