The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Music Box Films
Hacker With Ink on Back and Big Chip on Shoulder
Tattoos and body piercings must be pretty far-out stuff in Sweden, the land of midnight sun, icy blondes and enough twisted thinking to plump up three best-selling mystery novels. From the way that most people look at the inked, pierced form of Lisbeth Salander, the main attraction in the movie adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the first book in Stieg Larsson’s so-called Millennium Trilogy, you might even think that our girl had a swastika stamped on her forehead rather than a few modest rings hooked through her nose — you know, like a cow ready for market or, given the murderous milieu, slaughter.
Salander, as she’s usually called in the books, is a devil doll par excellence, and maybe if David Fincher makes good on the vaporous rumors wafting around about the inevitable American adaptation, she might one day make an equally delectable film character too. Weighing in at 90 pounds of rage on the page and a hair heavier and less fierce on the screen, where she’s played by Noomi Rapace, Salander embodies a host of au courant fantasies. She’s a geek girl for starters, a computer hacker who would have downloaded this flick before it even hit theaters, and whose fetish wear and shiny boots suggest that she’s into BDSM, as they say in bondage, discipline and sadomasochism circles.
More seductive to some, Salander is also a victim turned avenger, who, rather than taking her traumatic past out on herself in classic female style, say, by cutting, externalizes her rage. She doesn’t take anything lying down, including sex and violence. She’s the top dog in bed as well as in the streets, where she follows the creed that it’s better to die on your feet than on your knees. From one angle, she looks like a consummate cool chick of the sort routinely conjured up by the science-fiction visionary William Gibson, whose dream girl in his novel “Pattern Recognition,” with her singular talents, black clothes and sleek, tousled “anime hair, rendered hi-rez,” could easily describe Salander.
There’s more to Salander, however, than goth threads and ornamentation, and much of what makes Mr. Larsson’s first book worth the long haul (almost 600 pages in paperback) are the revelations about her spiky, unsettling, satisfyingly not-nice personality, which her creator, who died before the trilogy’s publication, peels as deliberately as an onion. She’s a less disquieting presence in the movie (a protracted 152 minutes), which was competently, sometimes ploddingly directed by Niels Arden Oplev and written by Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel. Though Ms. Rapace is a fine professional scowler, with cheekbones that thrust like knives and a pout that’s mostly pucker, she tends to register as an intriguing idea instead of a thoroughly realized character. She more or less looks the part that the filmmakers don’t let her fully play.
Maybe they were too busy trying to get — and keep — Mr. Larsson’s heavily plotted story in gear. A journalist who crusaded against right-wing extremism, he crammed a fearsome amount — love, sex, historical traumas, even an iBook plug — into “Dragon Tattoo,” his first novel. As in the book, Salander shares narrative pride of place in the movie with a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, adequate and sympathetic), who, after losing a highly publicized libel case to a corporate titan, is hired by a semi-retired captain of industry, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), an octogenarian who wants to know how and why his favorite niece, Harriet, disappeared decades earlier. Vanger suspects one of his creepy-crawly relatives, some of whom were active Nazis during World War II.
To retrofit “Dragon Tattoo” for the screen, the writers have ditched plot details and characters even as they’ve lifted crucial material from its sequel, “The Girl Who Played With Fire.” These incendiary visuals, borrowed from Salander’s childhood, make the glib case for why she’s such a head case. But the flashbacks are so visually and thematically blunt that they upstage the narrative’s interesting parallels and disturb its political undertow: Salander and Blomkvist initially occupy separate story lines that seem to converge only because she’s hired to spy on him. Along the way, each runs a gantlet of patriarchal violence (personal, social, capitalist), a trail of horrors that ends in a pile of bodies. Each is also a victim of that violence, which gives the story a political edge, keeping it from pure psychodrama.
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was originally published as “Men Who Hate Women,” which apparently wasn’t sexy enough for English-language bookshelves. The title change certainly spices things up, no matter how commonplace body art is, at least outside of Stockholm, and it plays down its overarching theme, which the movie only does further. Just as significant is the substitution in the title of “girl” for “women,” a categorical displacement (and diminution) that also shifts the emphasis from the crime (and criminals) and places it on Salander’s slender back.
It’s an attractive back in the movie, as is the tattoo adorning it, even if, like all the prettily photographed winter landscapes, the dragon covers up something the filmmakers seem loath to reveal and simultaneously eager to exploit.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Opens on Friday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington.
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev; written by Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson; director of photography, Eric Kress; edited by Anne Osterud and Jannus Billeskov Jansen; music by Jacob Groth; production designer, Niels Sejer; costumes by Cilla Rorby; produced by Soren Staermose; released by Music Box Films. In Swedish, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 32 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Michael Nyqvist (Mikael Blomkvist), Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander), Lena Endre (Erika Berger) and Sven-Bertil Taube (Henrik Vanger).
Average Reader Rating
4 rating, 379 votes