The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Starring:Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist
If you are unaware of the hoopla surrounding The Millennium Trilogy, here's a quick synopsis. Set in Sweden, the crime thriller novels have become a global literary phenomenon ever since the release of the first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, in 2005. Last year global sales topped 27 million. This is the Swedish adaptation of the first novel, later this year comes the highly publicised English-language version directed by David Fincher.
All successes, it could be said, can single-handedly be attributed to one character - the raven-haired Lisbeth Salander. A superb hacker but lacking in social grace, the goth-attired, chain-smoking genius has become an instant icon in today's pop culture. She joins forces with Mikael Blomkvist, a successful investigative journalist, in the first novel, and audiences have continued to lap up the tumultuous and dangerous events the duo become embroiled in throughout the course of the trilogy.
The first novel, as is often the case with a trilogy, is the best; just as this, the first film adaptation, stands head and shoulders above those that have followed. Several changes have been made, as is necessary with such a translation, but the director Niels Arden Oplev has succeeded in presenting a masterful adaptation that will more than satisfy fans of the book without alienating those new to the intricately woven plot. The film starts modestly with a brown paper package. An elderly man opens it hesitantly, finding a framed pressed flower inside. Sitting down at his desk, he begins to weep. Cut to the next scene, and we are presented with a hooded figure in black, a tantalising glimpse, perhaps, of the girl with the dragon tattoo. Just as quickly, Oplev whisks his audience away, presenting them with a courtroom, a room where the journalist Blomkvist (Nyqvist) has just been found guilty of libel.
This is all delivered in the space of three minutes, and accompanied by a heart-thumping instrumental soundtrack, the movie instantly demands your attention, maintaining its captive hold throughout its lengthy duration.
Aside from the welcome surprise that is Salander, the story itself, about a decades-long unsolved disappearance, also feels fresh and new; in part thanks to the cast, and, in part thanks to Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg's tight screenplay.
The old man in the opening scene is Henrik Vanger, a well-known Swedish industrialist, who employs Blomkvist to try to solve the disappearance of his beloved niece, Harriet, who vanished some 40 years before. Convinced of her murder at the hands of one of his greedy relatives, Vanger persuades the wary journalist to stay at his lodge, the last place Harriet was seen, and begin his investigation. Unbeknown to Blomkvist, his every move is being followed by the top-class hacker Salander, with the two eventually joining forces after discovering a darker, more sinister side to the case.
The first scene in which we finally come face to face with the star attraction, Noomi Rapace in a role she was born for, is fairly un-momentous. There will always be detractors when a much-loved character from a novel is brought to life, but in the case of Rapace, who had her nose, eyebrow, and lip pierced for the role, they are few and far between. There are no traces of anxiety or nerves about her, no sign that this was her first major role. Stealing the show without being overbearing, the actress also succeeds in presenting a woman dealing with abuse in a sensitive manner.
For although the film is concerned with the Vanger case, it also deals with the systematic abuse of women, a theme close to Larsson's heart (the original Swedish title of Dragon Tattoo translates as "Men Who Hate Women"), and one that runs throughout the entire trilogy. There are scenes that require a strong stomach and steely nerve, but the harrowing material is dealt with well.
Don't be put off by the subtitles. This is an all-round superb film, and one which the English-language version will have a hard time competing with.