The first part of a series based on Steig Larsson's acclaimed Millenium Trilogy, the story revolves around a middle-aged journalist called Mikael (Nyqvist) and his attempts to find out what happened to Harriet Vanger forty years ago. She apparently went missing without a trace, but her uncle is convinced she has been murdered - and hires Mikael. Shocking revelations at the heart of the dysfunctional Vanger family are uncovered, and Mikael teams up with violent but intelligent computer hacker Lisbeth (Rapace) to crack the cold case. However, she has a murky past of her own that threatens to catch up with her.
Stylishly made by director Niels Arden Oplev, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is at its best when evoking the sense of meticulous and methodical documentation that made Oliver Stone's JFK such compelling viewing. Mikael's research, which takes place on a remote island owned by the Vanger clan, allows us to do some detective work of our own and share the journalist’s perspective. Every little breakthrough is accompanied by a feeling of elation, while the frequent setbacks evoke a response of frustration.
Yet the movie's greatest strength is also its prime weakness, because unlike Mikael we simply can't opt to turn in for the night and pick up the pieces in the morning after a decent kip (or any of the other eye-opening nocturnal habits the character gets down to). At times there's an overwhelming urge to take a breather, which suggests that viewing it on DVD would be the ideal medium. Or at least until cinemas come equipped with some kind of 'pause' function. By the climax, the complexities of the story have taken their toll and it's hard not to feel too drained to fully engage with the material. Having said that, certain key components of the plot's resolution feel comparatively rushed compared to what has previously unfolded and the truth behind Harriet's (or her body's) whereabouts are too conveniently and implausibly conveyed.
Until Mikael and Lisbeth meet in the latter half of the story, there is an awkward shift in tone between their respective strands of the story. Mikael's Agatha Christie-style excursion rests rather incongruously alongside the feisty hacker's harrowing encounters with a twisted authority figure who subjects her to horrible acts in return for allowing her sporadic access to her own money. It's the equivalent of seeing Miss Marple wander around a quaint English village with a 10 inch Rampant Rabbit vibrator spilling over the side of her handbag. Once the pair hook up, their interaction is consistently absorbing and veers off in unexpected directions. They are fascinating figures to observe at both work and play, with their damaged souls binding them together despite their chalk and cheese dispositions. Huge credit goes to Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace for investing so much in their roles.
Best suited to a DVD viewing on a rainy day, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo just about does enough to muster interest in the remaining films in the trilogy. The pace may flag at times, but the potent and authentic characterisation of Mikael and Lisbeth does wonders for the stamina.
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