Now I know this is book blog, but when I impulsively decided to make it Steig Larsson Week to celebrate the release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, I decided I had to write about the movie version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I was lucky enough to see this past weekend.
If you happen to live near an “art house” theater or just a theater that isn’t afraid to show subtitled movies, you might be lucky enough to catch the film, which is a Swedish film and subtitled for American audiences. (All three films have been released in Sweden, and I hope they plan on releasing all three here in the U.S. Hollywood is also planning its own version … but who the heck knows when that will be released.)
For a book with strong characters like Mikael and Lisbeth, I think the casting will either make or break the film. I personally think the filmmakers got it right with this film.
Noomi Rapace plays Lisbeth Salander, and I’m happy to report that she nailed the part. She brings just the right amount of menace, toughness and vulnerability to the role. Although she can be frighteningly tough (as when she takes her revenge on Nils Bjurman), she can touchingly vulnerable as well (just witness her limping home after Bjurman’s violation of her). It is easy in the book to forget that Lisbeth is a young woman who has been terrorized almost her entire life. Rapace reminds you of that. In some scenes, despite her leather jacket, huge motorcycle boots and tattoos, you can see the youth and fragility in her eyes. And when she is without her make-up, she looks positively youthful and vulnerable.
Michael Nyqvist plays Mikael Blomkvist, and again I was happy with the choice. Nyqvist has just the right combination of middle aged wear (which you definitely get a sense of in the books), but he still has a bit of swagger and definite sex appeal. (Those blue eyes!) I found him quite attractive actually … and I could definitely seem him being able to pull off Mikael’s ability to be catnip to women. (Though this aspect of Blomkvist’s character is definitely played down in the film. Only one woman falls into bed with him.) It was fun to see Lisbeth and Mikael working together and getting to know each other. It makes you see just how odd this pairing is … but you also see why it works too.
I won’t go into much more on casting other than to say that Peter Andersson is sickeningly creepy and vile in his portrayal of Nils Bjurman (I wanted to do to him what Lisbeth did). The only casting that really bothered me was Erika Berger, who is played by Lena Endre. I thought she came off as a bit wild-eyed and frantic, which is NOT how I see Berger at all. (Plus Berger barely registers in the film … but I knew who she was and I didn’t think the actress played her right.) The rest of the roles are fairly minor and were played well.
These are big, fat complex books, and I imagine they would be fairly difficult to adapt for a movie. It is hard for me to tell if you would enjoy the film without having read the books. It seems that the plot is easy enough to follow … but you certainly don’t get the nuances and depth you would have if you’ve read the books. The plot of the movie focuses primarily on the events in Hedestad (solving the disappearance of a girl 40 years ago), which is the central story in Book 1. However, the filmmakers decided to bring in a bit of Lisbeth’s background from Book 2 (the events with Bjurman) into this film — probably to help demonstrate to the audience exactly what Lisbeth is capable of. This worked for me, and I was OK with it. (They also hint at Lisbeth’s past in a flashback scene and a visit with her mother.)
However, what I was NOT OK with was how they handled Lisbeth and Mikael teaming up to work together to solve the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance. I thought it was clumsily done and very untrue to the characters. In addition, I was VERY NOT OK with Mikael and Frode casually discussing Lisbeth’s hacking abilities. This is a big no no in the book, and I was really annoyed with this in the movie. It just didn’t have to be handled this way, and it really really rubbed me the wrong way.
Other than these missteps (and they were pretty big ones, in my opinion), I thought the filmmakers did a pretty darn good job. In fact, there is one area where I think the film actually excelled and improved on the book and that is bringing home just how horrible and horrific and vile the string of murders that Lisbeth and Mikael uncover. In the book, you get a sense of the murderer’s terrible acts, but the movie brings it home to you in graphic visuals that make the violence and horror all too real. (I had to look away at times.)
Which brings me to my last point: This movie is graphic and violent. There is a brutal rape scene, a torture scene and multiple visuals of murdered corpses of women. The violence isn’t gratuitous or glossed over. It is presented realistically and unvarnished …. making this is a film that is oftentimes disturbing. If you cannot handle realistic portrayals of violence, this film is probably not for you. (And the books might not be your cup of tea either.)
In the end, I thought the film did a good job adapting a complex book, and the casting was pretty spot-on. If the rest of the films are released here, I will definitely see them. (And I suspect they will be as the theater I was in was packed, and the movie has been out here for awhile now.) It is my guess that when Hollywood makes its own version, it won’t be nearly as good or true to the book, so this may be your best chance to see these books come alive on the big screen. And if you are worried about subtitles … don’t be. You really do get used to it, and I never felt like it intruded on my ability to watch the movie.
My grade: B+.