An overlong, gestating, and sadistic version of a Murder She Wrote episode, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is all hype, confusing shocking imagery for thrilling storytelling.
The first of three movies based on the bestselling novels by Stieg Larsson (released posthumously to incredible sales and acclaim), this is a film tailor made for the zeitgeist and begs to ask: has there ever been a movie which relishes the anything goes mentality of on screen violence, and the moral ambiguity of its supposed heroic characters?
Michael Nyqvist stars as Mikael, an idealistic journalist facing jail time after losing a defamation case placed against him. Before heading off to prison, Mikael is hired by an elderly patriarch (Sven-Bertil Taube) of a wealthy dynasty, to find the murderer of his grandniece.
The crux if anyone and everyone in the spiralling family is a suspect.
No doubt wanting the viewer to feel every crevice of his characters’ investigative procedure, director Neils Arden Oplev packs his film with information upon information, revealing dark family secrets involving physical abuse and strong ties to the Nazis.
Yet rather than illuminate its viewers with its supposedly shocking reveals and brutal violence, the opposite is achieved: an overlong and ho-hum murder mystery, headlined by the mismatched pairing of Nyqvist’s Mikael and Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth, the titular girl with the dragon tattoo.
No doubt a poster child for all angry female Goths everywhere, Lisbeth is the more interesting element of the film, a goth-lesbian-hacker whose damaged past leaves her privy as a glutton for punishment, while dispensing “justice” to monsters just as damaged as he is.
It is through Lisbeth that the film shows its ugliness in the depictions of extreme sexual violence, no doubt justified as “realistic”, but in reality no more than an exercise in shock value which dwarfs any story and character development, and is akin to the porn torture stylings of Saw.
Confrontational cinema is fine as long as there is something to fall back on, and one would think that a film based on a critically acclaimed novel and packed to the brim with character and story detail would provide something to hold on to.
Yet as is stands, the most memorable moment involves a tied up victim, a dildo, and a disturbing act of sexual violence (all for our applause mind you).
A remake is set with David Fincher behind the lens. If his Zodiac is anything to go by, maybe Fincher might be able to do this film justice.