Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The (2009)

Original Title: Män som hatar kvinnor
Release Date: February 27, 2009
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Novel by: Stieg Larsson
Screenplay by: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nykvist, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Ewa Fröling

Hollywood has a rather bad habit of remaking successful foreign films. As of late, Nordic crime stories have been a prime target for source material. 2010 saw an American version [1] of Tomas Alfredson’s brilliant boy-meets vampire flick Let the Right One In. This Christmas, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is getting the Hollywood treatment [2] a la MGM with director David Fincher. Fincher has the advantage of being mainstream (The Social Network, Fight Club) and no stranger to directing thrillers (Zodiac, Se7en), so his version of Larsson’s Nordic noir and its sequels should reel in a wide audience. But before you head off to the cinema to see Daniel Craig and newcomer Rooney Mara kick ass and take names, you might want to watch the original Swedish version.

The first and definitely most interesting film in the Millennium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows the exploits of edgy, antisocial computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rapace), and magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist). The unlikely pair are thrown together when Blomkvist, fresh out of a high-profile libel case that brings his career at Millenium magazine to an abrupt hault, is hired by elderly industrial tycoon Henrik Vanger (Taube) to reopen a murder case that has long gone cold. Realizing the enormity of his task, Blomkvist hires Lisbeth as his research partner. Their investigation plays out during the dark Swedish winter when the search for answers to one young woman’s disappearance leads them to come face to face with Nazis, corrupt government officials and a serial killer.

Director Niels Arden Oplev coaxes strong performances out of his cast, with the most impressive delivered by Noomi Rapace. As the violent and violated Lisbeth, Rapace is so invested in her character that it is difficult to imagine any other actress bringing as much sheer intensity to the role. Lisbeth is as cold and intimidating as her surroundings but Rapace gives her just enough spark to allow audiences to both sympathise with her and cheer her on.

Lisbeth turns the traditional concept of the femme fatale on its head. She is a demon — not really in disguise — and she doesn’t operate by means of seduction like the deadly women who made the black and white screen sizzle in the 1940s. Her attitude is as tough as her outward appearance and revenge on various Men Who Hate Women (referencing the literal translation of the Swedish title) is swift and brutal. Not one of them sees it coming until he’s being tazed in the groin or left with an amateur tattoo sprawled across his stomach to remind him that he’s “a sadistic pig and a rapist”.

If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sounds a bit disturbing, that’s because it is. Oplev’s film is moody, gritty, creepy and unapologetically in-your-face in a way that only European films are allowed to get away with. Yet the plot and pacing are so engaging that by the end of the film, you’re left with the feeling of having been through an acute experience. One of the hallmarks of a great thriller is its ability to leave you on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what happens next. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might actually leave you on the floor.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

By Kendra Jane

10 Responses

  1. Julyssa says:

    What did you think about the Swedish?

  2. amy says:

    Hey, Kendra – did you get to read the books before the film? How do you think they fare against each other…

    I have heard a lot of people liking the book better (which is normal), and that’s why they are glad someone else is tackling the story again… specially for being Fincher. But from the theatrical trailer of his version, it seems it’s almost a shot by shot remake.

    I had the same problem with Let Me In. LOL

    • Kendra says:

      @amy, I saw the first film and was told it was very close to the book, so I just read the second book (which I didn’t think much of, to be honest) and part of the third. I thought the first film was great, the other two were boring.

      • amy says:

        @Kendra, actually – the book has other stuff related to other characters – like Mikael’s family background and other conquests. There’s definitely more info on the Swedish society, but I thought the movie worked better because it shift focus to Lisbeth, which in the end… is the central character of the whole thing. I haven’t read the 3rd book yet – it’s still sitting on the shelf – because the books were a little slow. xD

        I think the three films work better if you see them as one, instead of three films. At least I got the chance to watch one right after the other. xD

  1. October 11, 2013

    […] is — eg. Let Me In [1] or the unspoken agreement that Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo [1][2][3] wasn’t one either. So I was somewhat shocked that after enjoying the visual aspect of […]

  2. August 11, 2015

    […] of all, I haven’t seen the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Haven’t read the book either. But I can tell you that David Fincher’s version of the […]

  3. March 28, 2016

    […] re-adaptation [1] of the popular first part of the Swedish trilogy — also titled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in contrast with its literal translation of “Men Who Hate Women“, which starred Noomi […]

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