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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Film Five Stars
I was lucky enough to receive some tickets to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire back to back in preparation for the release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third and final in the original trilogy of films based on the Stieg Larsson novels, the films about to be remade by David Fincher for Hollywood. I hadn't read the novels but I had heard great things about the film, its director and the two main leads, so I decided that I couldn't turn up the chance to see the films.

With The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I made the right choice. This is everything I'd heard about the films and delivered it superbly well, in fact there was little wrong with it and just about everything right with it. It's a dark film that concentrates on characters and the story and builds the plot and tension to deliver a superbly taught thriller.

To be honest I'm quite surprised that there's going to be an attempt on remaking the film for Hollywood, once again there seems to be no need as this looks to be the definitive version of the story. Could it be made better?

Plot.pngThe story begins by following a journalist who has been convicted of falsifying evidence against a leading industrialist. It's been a set-up, designed to put the journalist off the scent and pull him into a trap resulting in him being caught and convicted for libel. His sentence is due in just sixth months and during a time while no one else will hire him, he's given the opportunity to carry out a piece of investigative journalism away from the media and the city, in a place where he once spent some time as a child, for a large amount of money, and for a very worthy cause.

The man who has hired him is part of the Vanger Group, a large corporation that is headed by a number of family members who don't all see eye to eye. Some forty years ago his niece disappeared and he is convinced that it was murder, something that is compounded by the fact that he's been sent a framed flower every year on his birthday, a present his neice gave him every single year before she disappeared.

Mikael Blomkvist takes up the task of looking into the old case and trying to discover what happened to the girl, and using just a few small clues found through masses of information he begins to uncover something darker than they first thought. However he soon reaches a dead end and realises that it's not something he can do on his own.

While the assistant of the man from the Vanger Group had been trying to find out if Blomkvist was the right man for the job, he hired an investigative company who used their top researcher on the case, Lisbeth Salander. When she deciphers a vital clue for them, they call on her to join the investigation and together with Blomkvist they investigate the case, and each other, growing closer and unraveling events that looks set to threaten their lives even after forty years.

TheFilm.pngThe film turns out to be a very strong thriller with a superbly rich script. It concentrates on building the characters for quite a bit of the film, and even when the main plot builds they aren't ignored, in fact the film is strengthened by even more reliance on the characters and their relationships, and this helps to increase the tension and suspense in the story.

The writing is excellent, and the screenplay is very strong, as is the director Niels Arden Oplev who sticks to some of the darker aspects of the story and even keeps the two lead characters apart for a good long while, perhaps longer than you might think. I do actually remember wondering when they were going to meet and join up their seemingly individual stories. However it was perfectly timed and the story just gets better for the fact that they have been so well developed individually.

There are a number of turns and twists to the story that are surprising in their non-conformity to the standard thriller, but they work exceedingly well. There's the subplot of Salander getting a new probation guardian and the shocking revelation that he turns out to be a sexual predator, this can be seen as a small story on its own and diversion from the main events, but the way it is resolved develops an important aspect of the character of Lisbeth that is revisited throughout the film and the series. Another is the relationship between Blomkvist and Slanander that for a very short time seems to be going down the conventional Hollywood storytelling route. That quickly changes though as the relationship reflects the personality of Salander and the changes that she's undergoing because of Blomkvist, it also reveals something about Blomkvist himself.

I love these aspects. There's a deliberate pace set to the film and time given to the character development, and it's not a case of character development then on with the core of the story, the two intertwine and the development happens throughout the story, even during the conclusion. Like real life the characters are left with unanswered and unexplored aspects to their lives which reach both before the timeline of the film and beyond. We are shown events in their lives which begin and are never resolved, making it and the characters much more realistic and identifiable to the audience.

Some of these threads are never really explored and, once you've seen the second film, are clearly set-up for the sequels but aren't part of the core of the plot of the first. Again, it's another aspect of the film I really like because it's intelligent, makes you feel there's something much more real to the film as it's multi-threaded, rich and complicated, and doesn't have simple and clear-cut endings.

The main plot is a very strong one and is delivered expertly well, even if it is a slightly typical one that you can perhaps see coming from rather early on. As with all good thrillers it's about misdirection and the journey, and the film delivers both expertly. Twists, turns and connections travel all the way throughout the film and have you uncertain and guessing all the way. You're given pointers and clues and you feel like you're there with the characters as they are unraveling them, never a step ahead or a step behind, or guessing them well before you should do.

The film isn't scared to show anything too complex for the audience and there aren't writers looking for shortcuts here. For instance something that is so often fudged in television and film is the ability to enhance video or photographic evidence to discover who the person in the photo is. There's none of that here. An old photo can't be enhanced, it contains the information you can see and nothing more can be done. Whether this be down to the author of the novel or the screenwriter who decided not to take any easy route, or even the director and producers who agreed not to stray from the reality, doesn't matter, the decision was made and it does nothing but strengthen the reality in the story and the film. It's something we also see in the scenes of hacking and computer software, once again we're never treated to something that's not actually real, and at least is very close to reality.

It's also not scared to show the darkness of the characters and their story, and there are some disturbing scenes, particularly when Lisbeth is cornered by her probation guardian, and again when she finds her revenge. The first scenes are upsetting and disturbing, but are needed to allow the revenge scene to happen without her character loosing connection with the audience, and also to develop her and make the connections with the events of her past and what she's been through.

I did really enjoy how the character of Lisbeth Salander is created and written, how her character is allowed to be dark but also to be the heroine who the audience can connect with while still experiencing the darker aspects of her story. It's another strong point of the film, none of the characters are presented as true black or white, surely Blomkvist is the whitest of the characters and the bad guy the blackest, but they aren't presented as flat and two dimensional, there's depth, backstory and shades of grey to them all. Again, just like real life.

There's a gripping finale that is also quite brutally presented and at times provides for some great moments for the character of Lisbeth. It also has plenty of time to allow the story to conclude for the main plot and the characters, even after the thriller has been resolved the film continues with the characters. Not for twee Hollywood endings though, they brought forward to a time well after you might have expected the film to finish.

Noomi Rapace, who plays Lisbeth Salander, is excellent in the film, she really is a newly discovered talent that deserves to be graced with some excellent roles, roles I imagine she's going to blossom in. I personally think it's a perfect decision of hers not to be involved in the remakes.

Michael Nyqvist is very good as the journalist Mikael Blomkvist and gives just a strong a performance that at times is rather subtlely delivered. In fact there's a possibility that Nyqvist could well achieve as much foreign success as Rapace, if given half a chance. Both leads are backed by a strong and believable cast.

Niels Arden Oplev directs superbly well and there is some bold and very strong cinematography in the film. There should also be plenty of credit given to Stieg Larsson's creations and story that have been adapted so well by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg.

Overall.pngThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a great thriller that has a much richer set of characters, and a much deeper and more believable story thanks to the excellent source material, screenwriting and direction. There's an added strength through the fact that the story is allowed to be much darker than you might expect as well as stray from the main thread of the plot to develop the characters with their own stories.

It's a very well paced, multi-layered thriller that keeps you running along with the story, and delivers a fascinating character who you just want to experience more of, and a lot of that is through the excellent performance from Rapace. It's a great start to the series that promises a lot more to come.

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The question is "Can it be made better?" Ha, READ the novels before releasing a whole article on the subject. It can definitely be made better.



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