The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)

Niels Arden Oplev's film is a quality translation of Stieg Larsson's bestseller, comparable to what Ron Howard could have done with his Dan Brown films had the source material been worthy.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Andersson
Rated: NR
Studio: Music Box Films
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-03-19 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-01-06 (General release)

The new movie of Stieg Larsson's mystery novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor), is a quality translation, comparable to what Ron Howard could have done with his Dan Brown films had the source material been worthy.

Larsson's book was the first in an internationally bestselling trilogy about an investigative journalist who teams up with a quasi-autistic hacker to uncover the truth about a decades-old disappearance. Niels Arden Oplev's film introduces the journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, saggy-eyed and middle-aged) as he is being convicted of libel. His scoop about the purportedly shady dealings of a Swedish industrialist turns out to be not just fake, but a set-up.

Blomkvist has a little time to kill before he's sent off to serve his sentence, so it's good timing when another industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), offers him a job. Several decades prior, Henrik's niece Harriet went missing. While she has been presumed dead by almost everyone else, the aging Henrik believes she's still alive, because every year on his birthday, he receives a framed flower in the mail, just like Harriet used to give him. Henrik wants Blomkvist to find out what happened to her. Lacking other serious options and enticed by the promise of a nice cabin on the Vanger estate and a remote island full of crusty, cantankerous Vangers to interrogate, Blomkvist takes the case.

While Blomkvist gets started, the film also tracks a far darker and more chaotic storyline. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is a young, leather-clad goth with a photographic memory and a stare that makes it clear anyone else's opinion of her is the single least interesting piece of knowledge in the universe. Salander works for the private investigation firm Henrik had hired to look into Blomkvist's background. After she compiles her report -- mostly by advanced hacking -- Lisbeth keeps fishing around remotely on Blomkvist's computer, increasingly interested in his new case. Eventually, he figures out what's going on, and makes Salander a job offer.

Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg's screenplay dispenses with several of the novel's less necessary subplots, throwing viewers more efficiently into the dense mystery. Blomkvist's investigation into Harriet's disappearance in short order has Vanger family skeletons (including Nazi collaboration) tumbling out into the wintry air. In keeping with the no-fuss Swedish detective genre, there are no obsessive nightmares for this investigator, just querulous fact-gathering and the occasional raised eyebrow at Salander's borderline misanthropy.

In Salander's case, the film is on slightly less firm footing. She's something of a castaway in this world, navigating with a fearsome intelligence and ability to sift through vast amounts of digital information. What little we see of her life that's unrelated to the case has to do with the abuses she suffers. In one scene, Salander is somewhat randomly attacked by a group of drunks. In others, we see how her new court-appointed guardian (she's a ward of the state, due to circumstances that aren't clarified until film's end, and even then, not conclusively) systematically brutalizes her, secure in the belief that she has nobody to turn to. This is true, though it doesn't help him when she enacts a gruesomely, if righteously, extended vengeance.

The film deserves credit for its restraint in depicting Salander's maltreatment. But it keeps a distance from her and keeps intact only a fraction of Larsson's thematic subtext about violent societal misogyny; indeed, the original book and film title is "Men Who Hate Women." Oplev delivers a solid, character-based mystery that incorporates as much of the novel as possible without feeling too dense. The pacing almost never flags, despite a two-and-a-half-hour running time.

The denouement does, however, stall, jamming together another half a film's worth of exposition into just a few minutes, in order to set up the sequel. It's a dizzying and mystifying conclusion that doesn't do justice to what preceded it.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.