The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of the Millennium trilogy, a big-budget adaptation of a series of books by Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson. The story centres on both disgraced journalist Mikael and the violent and troubled young Lisbeth who, through alternate paths, become embroiled in a 40-year-old mystery- the disappearance of a young woman. They investigate with an entire extended family of suspects over their shoulders. Needless to say, things get more mysterious as they get more dangerous.
Going in, having never read the books, I had no idea what to expect. Being a Swedish adaptation rather than a Hollywood translation, I was prepared to like it on principle. The fact that it was made in Sweden was a good sign as my only previous experience of the recent Swedish crime fiction boom had been a turgid series of Kenneth Branagh-starring adaptations of Henkel Manning’s Wallander series. I found an entertaining film, though one that could easily have been a Hollywood film if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone was speaking Swedish.
It’s disposable-fun while it lasts but gone from your mind once it reaches its end. The spy thriller-like score, the picturesque Scandinavian landscape and the obvious high budget all help to create a good, speedy murder mystery. There’s something likeably old-fashioned about it and it does have a sense of humour. Indeed, the violence that lifts the film to an 18 rating feels slightly out of place, as the audience that may appreciate this film the most may be 15 years old. This is, however, a small qualm in this entertaining yarn, which uses its big budget not in the spirit of excess but to heighten the film’s visuals. Best are its chilling sequences in which photographs are analysed and murderers and victims found, which brings to mind Antonioni’s Blow-Up.
Regrettably, however, there are some problems. The film continues much too long after its denouement, losing its way and struggling to find a punchy note to end on. Here, things get a little schmaltzy and, at times, unintentionally comedic. The corny ending undercuts the sense of the seedy and violent underworld that the film had manages to convey so well earlier. Hollywood romanticism creeps into this dark realist tale, allowing for total closure. The fact that the world that this film creates does not allow loose ends is hard to believe. A peek into Lisbeth’s childhood via flashback may raise more mirth than empathy. Her younger self and her dad have the exact same grimace: an excellent bit of casting or a funny accident.