Refreshingly grown-up, yet surprisingly violent, director Niels Arden Oplev has succeeded in bringing a weighty novel, in both size and themes, to the screen in the shape of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo without compromising the less audience friendly aspects which might raise an eyebrow with some readers.
Dispensing with much of the novel’s back story, we’re quickly introduced to down-at-heel Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) as he awaits a prison sentence thanks to one of his stories not going quite to plan.
Called to the home of rich businessman Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), Blomkvist is asked to look into the delivery of flowers each year on the birthday of Vanger’s great-niece, a girl who vanished 40 years previously. Vanger is convinced someone in his own family murdered her.
Blomkvist is soon being assisted by the troubled Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) who has been placed in care by the authorities but who is the target of sexual abuse from one of her supposed carers.
An expert with computer technology, Salander becomes involved in Blomkvist’s investigations by accident, the pair finding themselves drawn to both danger and each other as they search for facts that stretch back four decades.
Though just shy of three hours long, Dragon Tattoo never outstays its welcome. Screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg have carefully excised anything that might weigh the story down, leaving a lean and fast-paced thriller which still manages to have some emotional depth.
While Blomkvist may kick-start the story, it’s the black-clad Salander who’s the more interesting character, Rapace offering up an intense portrayal of a woman who has been abused by men all her life and who is now trying to understand herself and the world around her.
One particularly harrowing scene, as Salander takes revenge on a deserving subject, announces to the viewer that anything can happen in this film, and it’s a brave move to have left it in the final cut.
The relationship between Rapace and the dour Nyqvist is undoubtedly the key to the film’s success, the overarching mystery playing second fiddle to their burgeoning friendship. Salander doesn’t fit with our preconceptions of the traditional heroine and the film is all the better for that uncertainty.
The aforementioned mystery may be a little far-fetched at times but it’s handled with skill by Oplev who is lumbered with the unenviable task of trying to make computer screens and hidden cameras look interesting.
Seemingly revelling in its ability to shock while introducing a fascinating new talent to audiences in the shape of Noomi Rapace, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is both classic thriller and intriguing morality tale, a rewarding combination whether you’ve read the book or not.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens at UK cinemas on Friday 12 March