What a seemingly insurmountable task to adapt and execute the multiple story lines and brimming detail of Stieg Larsson’s novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Despite all the slicing and dicing (yet still a two-and-half-hour run time), credit belongs to this Swedish filmmaking team for still managing to replicate the novel’s extraordinary pacing.
The sacrifice, unfortunately, is tone. In spite of the length, director Niels Arden Oplev makes the film into a full-on sprint. We never get a chance, with the exception of the magnetizing character that is Lisbeth Salander and Noomi Rapace’s performance as her, of getting under the story’s or characters’ skin. We barely have enough time to really understand what kind of a character Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) is before he’s engrossed in solving the film’s core murder mystery. Yet despite all those complaints, would I or anyone be able to do any better without needing to make the film in two parts? I’d like to think there’s a way, but I would not volunteer the man-hours necessary to carve it out.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” tells the story of a business reporter named Mikael Blomqvist who ends up disgraced when he loses a libel suit thanks to faulty information used in an article trying to take down a billionaire. Needing to lay low, he receives a call from another rich businessman, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taub), who offers Blomqvist ridiculous compensation to work on solving a 40-year-old mystery involving Vanger’s missing niece, who he believes was murdered.
Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is an information collector (aka hacker) with a troubled past and a number of tattoos and piercings who is doing her own research on Blomqvist and ultimately ends up getting wrapped in the mystery as well.
Although iffy on what it cuts from the book and what it alters, the adaptation succeeds at juxtaposing a lot of separate scenes in the novel into one sequence in the film. A common method for combining story lines and sub plots, this is particularly effective in picking up the suspense. As such, the film flows well and the key moments like the end and some pivotal events in the Salander subplot do not lack the impact or intensity that they require.
“Dragon Tattoo” moves at an entertaining clip, but never engulfs you like the novel and that will ultimately lead countless people to declare the books “so much better.” The themes, tone and depth simply do not exist. I imagine some of the production elements such as cinematography and a better musical score come with a lack of budget too, so that doesn’t help matters. Yet strong performances and entertainment value in this film do echo what made Larsson’s book so wildly popular.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
Written by Nickolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, Stieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber