It’s easy to understand why The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo seems on the verge of becoming a breakout art-house hit. The serial-killer-thriller elements translate effectively across the boundaries usually imposed by subtitles. It boasts a tough, complex female main character, something few mainstream films bother with. As a mystery, it lays out just enough clues to be satisfyingly tricky without feeling like a cheat. Oh, and there are Nazi bad guys. We can’t get enough of Nazi bad guys.
But Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s first-in-a-trilogy novel also stumbles at times as it attempts to pack a whole lot of story into its two-and-a-half-hour running time. At first, the narrative is split between two stories: Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nykvist), an investigative reporter in Stockholm disgraced after being convicted—and, he claims, framed—in a libel case; and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a private investigator and computer hacker with a troubled past. Eventually, they join forces when wealthy, aging businessman Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) hires Mikael to re-investigate the fate of the beloved niece who disappeared 40 years earlier.
The film takes a long time setting the stage for the central whodunit, but keeps things generally compelling in the interim. Most fascinating—and disturbing—of all is Lisbeth’s interactions with her predatory caseworker, a terrific showcase for Rapace’s furiously simmering performance. Lisbeth’s a great character, a rare case where the already-filmed sequels will feel like a welcome opportunity to spend more time with her.
You do already spend plenty of time with her, though, during this epic-length movie, and the pacing feels like evidence of a filmmaker clinging too tenaciously to the source material. Maybe now that all the background is already established, the next two installments will deliver all the high points of this one without the occasional sluggishness—more dragon, with less draggin’.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Michael Nykvist, Noomi Rapace