Starring Rodney Mara, Daniel Craig.
Directed by David Fincher
‘What is hidden in snow, comes forth in the thaw’ – Swedish Proverb
Once upon a time I was a student. Coming from a University background of endless research and investigation, mind numbing figure checking and research, you’d think I would find nothing more enjoyable than settling down to ‘The girl with the dragon tattoo.’ Well, one of the great things I discovered about film review is the fact that you are reviewing a piece of work, start to finish, in its own right. Therefore, when approaching ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, my background made it difficult to ignore the fascinating story behind ‘The Girl’ series, including Steig Larsson’s own life story of revolutionary communism and suspicious death. In his life of investigative journalism and research into right-wing politics, Larsson stepped on many toes, making his story almost as intriguing as that of the characters he created. Another area which was tough to avoid, was the comparison between the 2009 Swedish language version of the same name and the 2011 Hollywood movie. Thankfully however, this temptation was well avoided, and with no preconceived ideas in my head of either book or film, (but with a slight hope the film might contain an actual dragon) I sat down at my local Cineplex and settled in.
‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is the first of three movies planned by Columbia Pictures based on Larsson’s ‘Millennium’ Trilogy. It has sold tonnes and is quickly becoming the most reserved book in local libraries from here to Helsinki. The story begins in Stockholm, Sweden with the disgraced journalist and co-owner of Millennium magazine, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) losing a libel battle against a billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom over a report claiming to expose Wennerstrom’s gangster past. Meanwhile, Lisabeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is introduced as a lone, rebellious and reticent twenty something with a broken childhood and talent for computer hacking and private investigation. Blomkvist decides to escape his disgrace by taking up an offer of a rich industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate a 40-year-old murder mystery of Vanger’s granddaughter Harriet. The movie unfolds between the small Vanger owned Island, where the dysfunctional and colourful family now live and are under secret investigation by Blomkvist, and Stokholm where Lisabeth’s story is unfolding. Eventually, Lisabeth and Blomkvist’s paths cross when Blomkvist finds out she was used by Vanger to hack into his own computer system as a background check, a trait which he utilises by hiring Lisabeth to investigate the Vanger family mystery.
‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (which sadly has no real dragons) is a complicated film. Classified as a ‘Crime, Mystery, Drama’, it certainly can be a mystery at times as to how members of the audience like myself, with no prior knowledge of the story, is to comprehend all the twists and turns which unfold throughout the two hours and thirty minutes. I agree the book obviously needed to be crammed into a realistic time frame, but the film tries to cover too many plots and stories without adequately tying them up by the end of the film which is already over lengthy and plot heavy. The mix of accents is baffling, while Craig maintaining his Cheshire vocal charm, the other mix of Swedish and non-Swedish actors create a strange tonal soup which can be slightly distracting at times. Also, not to plot spoil, (which I am clearly about to) but the casting of Stellan Skarsgard (‘Good Will Hunting’, ‘Thor’ and yes, ‘Mamma Mia’) as an apparently random Vanger uncle in a film about a family murder mystery, brought an immediate raised eyebrow as to who the possible culprit may be. Despite these issues, the movie is a very well-directed and decent visual piece, with Fincher managing to hold onto a Swedish feel of the film (apart from the accent issues), and, during the later scenes shot on the Vanger owned island, he certainly manages to induce the feeling of isolation and tension which is prevalent amongst the characters.
If you enjoy a ‘Crime, Mystery, Drama’ and have little plans for three hours of your night, then ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is certainly a must see. I however, felt like I was stepping into yet another movie franchise which I simply do not have the energy or the interest for. A fine one-off movie sure, but don’t expect to be able to talk about it amongst friends without being told in detail where the movie falls down in comparison to the novel and how you should go off and read the trilogy before showing your face in that part of town again. With the original Swedish adaptation only two years old, the question may be raised of is this new American speaking version really necessary? Or is it simply another example of how foreign speaking films must be remade simply to suit a mainstream audience? That is certainly a crime, mystery, and drama which is probably worth investigating a bit further.
By Matthew P Collins