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The Independent Critic

Michael Nyqvis, Noomi Rapace, Lena Ender, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Andersson, Ingar Hirdwall, Marika Lagerkrantz
Niels Arden Oplev
Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg
NR (Equiv. to "R")
152 Mins.
Music Box Films
Interview with Noomi Rapace
Theatrical trailer
Vanger family tree

 "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" Review 
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Based upon a trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson that has sold over 7 million copies worldwide, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a rather relentless mystery thriller centered around the years old disappearance of 16-year-old Harriet Vanger, the favored child of a wealthy patriarch (Sven-Bertil Taube) whose family he suspects of murdering her in an effort to break him and take control of the family fortune. In an effort to resolve the mystery of the young girl, whose body was never found, he hires Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvis), a disgraced financial journalist, and a tattooed, ruthless computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to investigate.

Mikael and Lisbeth soon link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders years earlier and, as they get closer to the truth, it becomes more and more evident that this very secretive clan will do whatever it takes to keep their secrets unknown.

It would be difficult to deny that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo works as a mystery thriller, a dark and somber looking film that capitalizes magnificently upon its Swedish locale and the authentic and convincing chemistry between co-stars Nyqvis and Rapace. Both performers are powerful here, serving up performances that are understated and honest in contrast to the intensity that surrounds them throughout the film's 2 1/2 hour run time.

Yet, a touch too often, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo also feels just a touch exploitative and excessively violent in the way director Niels Arden Oplev lingers upon acts, graphic acts, of physical and sexual violence. For example, at one point not too far into the film Lisbeth is violently sexually assaulted by her court appointed guardian, a man whose very presence feels leering and intrusive even when he first shows up onscreen. Yet, Lisbeth isn't just raped but she is raaaaaaaaaaaappppppppeeeeed in a way that is long, drawn out and excruciatingly painful to watch unfold.

Intentional? There's no doubt. Perhaps the director is simply preparing us for Lisbeth's inevitable revenge, which is nearly as equally drawn out in its willingness to humiliate its victim.

Both scenes, and there are others in the film, feel like we're back watching Nic Cage's snuff film 8MM, a film that tackled an unfathomably dark subject yet was Americanized enough to not completely linger on the crimes taking place.

In this film, however, there's a European sensibility going on and there's no hesitation to linger on rape or humiliation or other acts of violence. Does this lingering actually ruin the film? No, it doesn't. Yet, it feels unnecessary and exhausting over the course of a 152-minute film.

Larsson died in 2004, a year before his trilogy was published. All three books have already been turned into films, however, only The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has made it to the United States so far. It seems inevitable the others will follow in the near future providing, of course, that this film finds an audience. A Hollywood remake of this film is already in the works.

While Nyqvis and Rapace have an awesome chemistry, it's fortunately not an Americanized one. Rather than build their relationship into a simmering, heated warm & fuzzy romance, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo allows for a more emotionally satisfying slow build with peaks and valleys and twists and turns along the way. The resulting relationship, especially given Rapace's outstanding performance, feels completely and utterly convincing.

Fans of the trilogy may flinch a bit as Opley isn't really hesitant to mess around with Larsson's writing. While he keeps the essential ideas and happenings from the popular novel, he moves characters around and gives Blomkvist an entirely different personality altogether. While these dramatic liberties are not fatal to the screenplay, they do give the film, perhaps, more intensity and more of a sense of being a "thriller" than the book, which was a more straightforward crime mystery.

Despite reservations about the seemingly deliberate and sadistic approach to filming scenes of intense violence, especially sexual ones, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a captivating, hypnotic and unforgettable thriller that runs 152 minutes yet is nearly perfectly paced throughout. The camera work of Jens Fischer and Eric Kress is stellar, while Jacob Groth's original score appropriately travels between intimacy and foreboding.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic