The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Director    Niels Arden Oplev
Starring    Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Andersson, Ewa Fröling
Release    19 MAR (US) 12 MAR (UK)    Certificate 18
4 stars


12th March 2010

There's a lot to be said for a good old-fashioned murder mystery. If it weren't for the likes of Columbo, Quincy and Diagnosis Murder, daytime TV would be a dead zone. If it weren't for the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, your mum's bookshelf would be empty. And if it wasn't for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, you'd have to go all the way back to 2007's Gone Baby Gone for the last decent mystery thriller.

Adapted from the Steig Larsson novel of the same name - known as 'Men Who Hate Women' in its native Sweden - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn't quite so old-fashioned as an afternoon with Dick Van Dyke or Angela Lansbury. A clever story of murder and mystery interspersed with various acts of cyber-crime and corporate intrigue, it's the most refreshing thriller in recent memory. It does everything that The Da Vinci Code tried and failed to do; Larsson's narrative might be a less sensational story, but there's no doubt it forms the backbone of a far superior film.

We follow twin protagonists as their stories intertwine; disgraced reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, calm and collected) and brilliant hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace, intense and feral) are thrown together to solve the 40 year-old murder of retired industrialist Henrik Vanger's (Sven-Bertil Taube) granddaughter. After poring over piles and piles of seemingly exhausted evidence, the pair eventually pull on one thread, only to suffer unforeseen and highly unexpected circumstances.

[gallery]Originally shot for broadcast on TV, the movie benefits from a lack of hype and a cast of unknowns - in fact, not reading the book beforehand is advisable, as it's quite refreshing to see a story in which anything can happen to anyone. The mystery unspools organically, with few convoluted coincidences and conveniences. Crucially, the puzzle is solved before your eyes, not merely in the head of the characters - an ungainly trait that Dan Brown's cumbersome adventures have in spades.

Aside from a few difficulties visualising the sleuthing (there is much browsing of paperwork and careful studying of photographs), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remains engaging and gripping throughout. The language barrier is never a problem; Larsson's no-fuss dialogue remains intact.

Larsson's knack for character is the key. Blomkvist could quite easily come across as a sleaze (he beds three different women in the book) but he's written with a strict code of integrity and a wry wit, traits which make him a relatable lead. Salander, meanwhile, is a peach of a role; with short boyish hair, a flat chest, facial piercings and myriad tattoos, she's the most unlikely movie heroine in many a year.

Rapace is nothing short of a revelation, conveying a complex character with a burning intensity bubbling beneath the surface. Despite her contempt for her fellow man - which comes to a head in an extremely uncomfortable revenge rape scene - she's easy to like. It's in daring to go to such dark places that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo distinguishes itself as a thoroughly adult adventure: it does not pull its punches or shy from taboo topics. You will shift in your seat more than once, and you'll be on its edge come the conclusion.

The two-hour running time does outstay its welcome a little - multiple endings are apparently a by-product of a studio dispute - and one particularly odd piece of casting in the last reel feels out of place. Otherwise, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo keeps you guessing and keeps you interested.

It's a genuinely well-crafted thriller that deserves to be seen: make sure you catch it before Hollywood planes all the edges off and remakes it with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

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