Appropriately tense

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

Directed by Niels Arden Oplay, 2010

152 mins.

3/4 Stars

As an adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s international literary phenomenon, the plot of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be familiar to many of its viewers. But for those coming to it fresh, the plot traces the efforts of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to uncover the truth behind the decades-old disappearance of industrial heiress Harriet Vanger. He is joined by Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the titular Girl, a brilliant hacker and social misfit. Such a figure could easily become a caricature, and it is one of the triumphs of Larsson’s novel that Lisbeth is complex and believable.

Fortunately, Rapace is up to the challenge of such a role, and her performance is the single best thing about the film. The rest of the cast do a competent job supporting her, but Nyqvist’s Blomkvist is overshadowed, lacking the charisma to balance out Rapace’s presence on screen. The script, while hardly bad, struggles to fit the scope and detail of Larsson’s work into a watchable length. Blomkvist’s journalist colleagues clearly suffer in comparison, as does the sprawling Vanger family. Even the protagonists are not immune, as Blomkvist’s struggle against his corporate foe Wennerström is greatly truncated, while the final shot of Lisbeth becomes almost incomprehensible, as she transforms from dysfunctional recluse to master of disguise with no explanation.

Niel Arden Oplay’s direction successfully evokes the mood of Larsson’s narrative but occasionally becomes somewhat heavy-handed. Repeated cuts to a picture of Harriet Vanger are the most grating example, the last of which almost ruins one of the most emotional scenes in the film. Jacob Groth’s score suffers a similar problem. While often appropriately tense, it occasionally explodes into frenetic action, as if trying to convince the audience that it’s watching a Hollywood blockbuster. These blemishes aside, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is both gripping and faithful to the spirit of the book, and for many that will be enough. But ultimately it does not succeed, as the best adaptations do, in becoming an artistic entity on its own terms.

– James Williamson

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