The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Review by © Jane Freebury

In our anti-heroic age, the girl with a dragon tattoo is a perfect heroine. She is the rank outsider, an asocial girl geek with sleek black hair, nose rings, platforms and attitude in spades. For those who get really close, an unpleasant surprise might be waiting – a writhing dragon down her spine. Even intimacy isn’t easy for Lisbeth Salander.

Getting her character right was the single most important thing for this movie adaptation. And it has succeeded. As she is played by Noomi Rapace, Salander is still far and away the most interesting thing about this epic thriller from Sweden, based on the first of the best-selling crime fiction ‘millennium trilogy’ that found a fit with the zeitgeist of the ‘noughties’.

There are big shoes to fill. Everyone who has been into a book store lately will know how these thrillers have taken off. The fact that they were published posthumously after the author, Swedish investigative journalist Stieg Larsson, died suddenly at 50 has perhaps added a frisson to the significance of the material the books contain. But this is speculation.

A mild-mannered, scruffy middle-aged journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist from As It Is In Heaven, and Suddenly) is hired by a wealthy retired industrialist to solve the mystery of his niece’s disappearance 40 years ago. Foul play is suspected. Although Blomkvist prefers to crusade against corporate corruption, he finds the offer hard to refuse and he goes to live in forested seclusion among his client’s family members to investigate. Any number of the family members could be suspected of murdering a pretty teenager who was her childless uncle’s favourite.

Blomkvist is adequate for the task, but it’s not until he teams up with his neo-punk, kickboxing partner Salander that he begins to make some progress. Like old-style journos, she seems to live on coffee and cigarettes, but her kick-ass style and stunning computer hacker skills bring this 1970s style conspiracy thriller about an establishment rotten to the core right up to date.

When they stumble upon the trail of a serial killer, and the film doesn’t spare us from the details. This tends to tip things more towards horror than chilling, edge of your seat thrillers like Klute and Silence of the Lambs. Expect some confronting violence.

Curiously, the film has cleaned up Blomkvist’s sex life. It barely hints at his other affairs, and so it has to end differently than the book, which is a pity. But overall, it’s a fine, well honed adaptation that has picked out the key points of the book from a mass of detail. Expect to see next instalment The Girl Who Played with Fire anytime soon.

In a capsule: Although the movie strips a mass of detail from the book it’s a fine, well honed adaptation—with confronting violence intact. The character Salander is particularly well realised, and the backdrop has that familiar Swedish gloom that we expect and would miss if it wasn’t there.

4 stars