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  • Post last modified:May 24, 2022

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: A Swedish Harry Potter

Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist. Photo: Yellow Bird

This adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling crime novel became one of the most talked-about cinematic events in Sweden of past years. It sort of makes me think of it as the Swedish equivalent of a Harry Potter movie. A grand story and a great many characters have been boiled down into a script; the Swedish acting elite appear in small roles, just as their British colleagues do in the Harry Potter films. What we have here is a protracted but solidly executed high-concept film.

Arriving in a small community
During the Christmas holiday, the famous investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is contacted by Dirch Frode (Ingvar Hirdwall) who works as an attorney for Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), a wealthy industrial tycoon of the old order. Mikael is talked into having a little chat with Vanger in the small community of Hedeby; it turns out that several members of the Vanger clan, including Henrik, are living in separate houses on a small island there. Vanger has a special job for Mikael. Forty years ago, his niece Harriet disappeared from the island and Henrik firmly believes that she was murdered – most likely by a relative. He wants to find out what really happened. Mikael agrees to do it, moves temporarily to the island and tells Henrik’s kins that he’s writing a biography of the Vanger family. 

The deeper he digs into the disappearance case the more horrifying secrets from the family history are unearthed. He gets a lot of help from his newly hired assistant, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a brilliant but socially awkward (to say the least) hacker.

Barrage of Swedish stars
When first hearing that Nyqvist had been cast as Blomkvist, I was skeptical. He has little in common with the character as described in the book, but the writers toned down the qualities that risk making Larsson’s alter ego look silly; this incarnation of Blomkvist is not seduced by every woman he meets and there isn’t as much of a macho attitude, which suits Nyqvist and his laidback approach well. Rapace is perfect as Salander; vulnerable yet dangerous and wise from the cruel experiences that marked her for life. Also fascinating for anyone who’s Swedish to see this barrage of stars cast down to the smallest role…  even though Lena Endre’s character vanishes a little too quickly considering the important role she plays in the books. I suppose it came out of necessity; the writers have made good choices in the transfer from novel to film, and the movie is probably even more exciting to anyone who hasn’t read the book. 

Still, about that final half hour, I’m conflicted; the movie feels complete enough and yet it continues with one epilogue after the other.

Still, about that final half hour, I’m conflicted; the movie feels complete enough and yet it continues with one epilogue after the other. Then again, all those plot lines deserve closure. There are several sequences where the dramatic music score becomes a bit overbearing, but director Niels Arden Oplev always reinforces the spectacular aspects of the novel and our interest in what really happened to Harriet Vanger never wanes. 

The best part of the novel is the mystery of the disappearance, an intriguing ingredient the two other books can’t quite match. I suppose the subsequent films will have the same problem, but perhaps that leaves more room to focus on the character of Lisbeth. The baton goes to director Daniel Alfredson and I bet it is in safe hands.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 2009-Sweden-Denmark-Germany. 150 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Søren Staermose. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Screenplay: Niels Arden Oplev, Rasmus Heisterberg, Nicolaj Arcel. Novel: Stieg Larsson. Cast: Michael Nyqvist (Mikael Blomkvist), Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander), Lena Endre (Erika Berger), Sven-Bertil Taube (Henrik Vanger), Peter Haber, Peter Andersson, Marika Lagercrantz… Ingvar Hirdwall, Björn Granath, Ewa Fröling, David Dencik, Stefan Sauk, Fredrik Ohlsson, Sofia Ledarp, Per Oscarsson, Jacob Ericksson, Gunnel Lindblom, Reuben Sallmander, Jan Mybrand, Alexandra Pascalidou.

Trivia: Original title: Män som hatar kvinnor. Later shown with its sequels on TV as a series, complete with extended material. Followed by two sequels, starting with The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009). Remade in the U.S. as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

BAFTA: Best Foreign Language Film.

Last word: “[Shooting the rape scenes] was awful. It was very tough. The actors got hurt and bruised. Noomi had nightmares. The crew was filled with discomfort. I felt like a sadistic warlord making them do this stuff. But I knew I had to drive it home. We decided to shoot it as close to the real thing as possible. You get into a lot of uncomfortable situations, like the part where Noomi was tied down to the bed and he pulls down her pants. I was filming it reassuring her saying, ‘everything between your legs will be in shadow, and you won’t be able to see anything on screen.’ But her fellow colleagues and actors could see everything. You have a lot of uncomfortable situations you have to deal with and solve.” (Arden Oplev, Word & Film)

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