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Matt's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) Review
I had reasonably high expectations going in to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I liked the sound of the plot – involving a journalist and a hacker investigating a 40 year old murder – and I’d heard good things about the novel on which the film was based. After having watched it twice, I can say that Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a solid thriller in the same vein as Se7en, but not in the same league due to a fatal flaw.
- I really liked the production values of this film. The way it was shot, and the way it was edited together was very tight – especially considering the 152 minute runtime. The intensity and atmosphere was good and consistent throughout the film.
- I really liked the characters in this film. The journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who hits a roadblock in his career at the start of the film, is an easy character to root for. An open book surrounded by countless people shrouded in mystery, many of whom have ulterior motives, and some of whom are Nazis. The most mysterious of the characters is the girl with the dragon tattoo herself, Lisbeth Salander. The basics of her colorful history are touched on, but wisely not over-exposed. The big focus is on the main mystery, which surrounds the Vanger family. It’s an intricate and meticulously executed mystery story that entertained me to no end.
- American filmgoers will want to keep in mind when seeking out this film that it is from another country. I’ve found that foreign markets often have looser restrictions when it comes to content. From an artistic standpoint, it’s wonderful to have as much leeway as possible. Pan’s Labyrinth (9/10), for instance, is a film that could not have been made in the US. That being said, I’ve never been an advocate for deliberately making the audience uncomfortable when it is not necessary to do so. Knowing what to show onscreen and when to cut away can go a long way towards keeping films palatable. And if there is a point to be made, be it religious, political, social, or what-have-you, I believe filmmakers ought to trust the audience to understand what needs to be understood, without having it thrown in their faces. I end this section with a word of caution to all but the most desensitized viewers who might seek out this film, there are one or two scenes in this film that are likely to make most viewers uncomfortable.
- Without spoiling anything, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had a great, great ending.
(My final bullet in this section contains SPOILERS. Those of you who have yet to see Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are advised to move on to the “Performances” section of the article.)
- Oddly enough, when all is said and done, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might have been even better if the sequels had never been made. The only truly objectionable content in the film is contained in a secondary storyline necessary only to set-up the sequels – this storyline includes a rape scene. To put it bluntly, violence doesn't bother me, but rape does. If the sequels hadn’t been disappointing, I might’ve felt differently, but as it stands, what we’re left with is one excellent movie bogged down by a sequence unrelated to the main thread. There can be no doubt at all that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had a clear feminist agenda, and the sexual victimization of women is a huge part of the film. However, I believe the acting and the writing were good enough to get that point across without the onscreen rape scene.
Without the sequels, that entire storyline would’ve been left on the cutting-room floor, and the movie would’ve been better for it. The most interesting part of the plot is the investigation into the Vanger family. As compelling as the film was as a whole, I can’t ignore the guardian storyline, which is why I deducted 1 point off the final score. To be fair, I still think Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good movie, but this flaw keeps it from being a great movie.
I thought the performances in this film were fantastic across the board, but the two most memorable are the two stars.
- Michael Nyqvist turns in a great performance as Mikael Blomkvist. He is the everyman of the piece, someone who genuinely wants to do the right thing, and find out the truth. It’s not the most original character ever, but Nyqvist caught my attention. It’s a testament to his skills as a performer that he was able to hold my interest opposite Noomi Rapace.
- Noomi Rapace is going to be an actress to watch for in the next few years as she starts her career in American cinema. If her performance in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is any indication, she is seriously talented. Rarely do I see a performance that is so nuanced. So emotional, yet so guarded and reserved. She’s fantastic!
Music, Cinematography and Special Effects
- The music is relatively sparse, and oddly similar to what an American composer might do with this kind of material. The score adds familiarity, as well as accomplishing everything a decent film score does. However, I wouldn’t argue that this is a score that would stand well on its own without the context of the movie.
- The cinematography is very dark and bleak. I won’t go so far as to say there is no sunlight, but a clear effort was made to maintain mood and atmosphere in this film, and I really liked the way this movie was shot.
- Special effects work was pretty basic stuff with minimal CGI and nothing that didn’t convince me.
The Bottom Line
Looking past the imperfections, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a solid thriller. Good characterization, solid writing, and great performances. Alas it will never be classed with the likes of Silence of the Lambs (10/10) or Se7en (10/10), but precious few films are quite up to the standard set by those two. Not every film can be a masterpiece, but Girl with the Dragon tattoo is a good movie. 8/10