The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) is the movie adapted from the international best selling novel by Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or as it was called in its original Swedish: Man Som Hatar Kvinnor – Men Who Hate Women. I picked up the book – you almost need two hands to do so as it is 644 pages – and tore through it in less than a week. Literally, it was one of those books that you can’t put it down.
That was about 10 days ago. Upon arriving back home on the 27th, I immediately reset my Netflix queue and had the DVD in my hands on the 29th.
“Once you have read a book, seeing the movie afterwards is bound to be a disappointing experience”. This is what many have said. In this case I don’t agree. Yes there was a lot from the book that didn’t make it into the movie. But this is to be expected and should not be the determining factor of the movie’s entertainment values. A movie and a book tell the same story, but are not the same medium so there won’t be a literal transporting of everything.
The story is both a “who done it” and a “locked room mystery”. Only in this case, it was an island not a room that was sealed off due to a traffic accident on the sole bridge which was the only access to the to the island. The film opens with an old man receiving a pressed flower under glass, as he has yearly (on his birthday) for almost 40 years. He is Henrik Vanger, a Swedish industrialist/billionaire in retirement. He lives alone (with a housekeeper) in a vast mansion on the Hedeby Island – two hours north of Stockholm.
Meanwhile, down in Stockholm, Author, Publisher and Co-Owner of the financial magazine Millenium, Mikael Blomkvist has just been sued by the entrepeneur/tycoon Hans-Eric Wennerstrom for libel after Blomkvist wrote and published accusations that Wennerstrom’s billions were tainted because he indulged in gun-running and drugs among other illegal activities. Blomkvist lost the suit tarnishing both his reputation as a journalist as well as the magazine’s stature as a legimate financial journal.
Blomkvist would have to do a stint in jail as well as pay 150,000 kroner in settlement of the damages. Blomkvist’s career and life are now in tatters.
Back on Hedeby Island, Vanger, through his lawyer, advisor and emmissary, Dirch Frode, has hired the Milton Security firm to do a complete backround check on Blomkvist’s personal and professional life. This assignment was given to Lisbeth Salander.
Salander is a supreme hacker as well as a social misfit. She is the girl with the dragon tattoo, a spiked collar, body piercings, leather clothing and other accoutrements of living her life outside of societal norms. Her own personal life is one of repeated abuse. She has been placed in multiple foster homes, institutions, and is presently under a state-appointed guardianship which as we will come to learn is representative of yet another hellish layer of her existence. She might not be able, or rather would not want to have a conversation with most people, but as a researcher/investigator/hacker she was unsurpassed.
Okay, as you can imagine, Vanger, Blomkvist, and Salander are going to meet up. Vanger offers Blomkvist a job : to the outside world he has been hired to write a history of the Vanger family. But the real job is to research and hopefully make some discoveries which will lead to the resolution of the mysterious disappearance of Vanger’s grand niece, Harriet Vanger, from Hedeby Island, on the day of that fateful accident on the bridge, nearly 40 years earlier.
Vanger believed that his grand niece was murdered on that day. Not only that, he believes that one of his own family murdered her. Only a corpse was never discovered. If you want to toss out the term ‘cold-case’ this case had to noted as frozen.
Old man Vanger has been obsessed with finding the truth about Harriet’s disappearance ever since. He has managed to build and maintain a large archive of photos, facts, suppositions, theories, police reports, statements by those who saw her at various times on that day, and uncountable documentation from newspapers, magazines, and other sources surrounding the case over the years. Vanger makes Blomkvist an offer he can’t refuse.
Blomkvist doesn’t see much hope in doing this work, but he needs the money, has to rebuild his reputation, has nothing else on his plate, and has literally little else to do before going off to jail in six months.
That’s your set-up. Blomkvist is soon joined by Salander, and that’s as far as I am going to take you about the plot.
Having read the book I knew the outcome, I knew what had happened to Harriet, as well as the names of the guilty parties, so as the movie played out on my screen, I had no idea if the film would succeed with all the elements of suspense and mystery removed.
Happily, I can say that the flm is superb. It didn’t matter an iota that I knew the who, what, where, why, and how. The movie is a visual treat – you’ve got to deal with the barren coldness of Sweden in the winter which reaches into your living room and makes you shiver, the utter dismay of Blomkvist who believes the case is unsolvable but has to tackle it anyway to honor his contract with Vanger.
Then factor in the uniqueness of Salander; a cyberpunk, goth, geek, misfit, who has undergone nothing but the most extreme abuse from one man after another for years. But she is not only tough as nails, she is also iron-willed. Not only does she get angry, she always gets even. As portrayed by Noomi Rapace, you will be watching one of filmdom’s most unusual film heroines ever and a stunning performance to boot.
Actor Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist has the top billing but the further into the movie we get, we realize that he is playing the second fiddle to Rapace’s Lisbeth. I was expecting Max Von Sydow to appear as the octagenarian Vanger, but the role went to Sven-Bertil Taube. who was flawless.
Helmed by the Danish Director Niels Arden Oplev who was working from the screenplay written by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, we have a 152 minute film which plays seemingly shorter. Or at least you don’t get that antsy feeling of wishing they would pick up the pace. There’s a lot to show you, and a lot for you to absorb. After all the case is nearly 40 years old and there’s a lot of suspects in the Vanger clan. I mean think about the fact of when did you last watch a movie involving Nazi sympathisizers, brutal serial murders, religious fervor, sadism, incest, and product placements for the iBook and Powerbook laptops.
For me, despite the inclusion a few grueling sexual encounters that were almost too much to watch, this was just a marvelously engrossing, absorbing, and thrilling movie.