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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009)

Literary sensations donít always make the best material for film projects, as Niels Arden Oplevís adaptation of Stieg Larsonís Swedish novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo kindly demonstrates. Perhaps on the page a plot involving Nazis, child abuse, serial killers, libel scandals, a murder mystery, and computer hackers might flow beautifully, but when put up on the big screen, the result is rather bafflingly overstuffed. Beginning with parallel plot strands that eventually, inevitably come together to form a single investigation, Girl attempts to juggle more material than even a two and a half hour run time can hold (indeed, there is a longer version of this film that exists as a television miniseries). For the first half of this bloated story, most of the investigation scenes see the two leads hunched over computers, furiously resizing images or reading e-mails. Itís hardly exciting stuff, although the latter half of the movie does contain a narrative quickening in which the two team up to find the killer and burn off their frustrations, sexually.  

The two detectives that Larson has invented are inanely drawn characters. One, played by Michael Nyqvist, is a disgraced leftist journalist sentenced to jail after losing a rigged libel case. The other, embodied by Noomi Rapace, who does what she can with her material, is a laughable contrivance whoís been simultaneously conceived as helpless victim, anti-hero, goth badass, genius hacker, available seductress, and untouchable lesbian. The ridiculous trail of clues that the two heroes follow push the film into the same absurd territory covered a few years ago by The DaVinci Code, although Tattoo carries with it a distinctive brand of sadism to call its own. 

Tattoo features a few protracted rape scenes that seem classifiable as its most noteworthy element, which is ironic given that the film is claiming a stance against patriarchal oppression (in the hyperbolic form of Nazis, family patriarchs, and even random street thugs). Straightforward exploitation seems preferable, or at least more honest, than this sort of faux-empowering feminist posturing. Several scenes here, including a particularly nasty one involving a sexually aggressive probation officer, are surely more lurid than they need to be. Elsewhere, the film is slickly and anonymously made, although a few of Oplevís montages stand out because they bombard us with confusing expository information that surely must have been more fleshed out in the source novel. The overload of plotting dulls the impact here. Less surely would have been more.  

There is something hokey and familiar about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that almost makes you believe it could work. Its mystery setup, its underdog characters and its ample Gothic atmosphere could have conspired to create something entertaining. Unfortunately, while the film offers silly fun for a while, its ultimate schizophrenia and self-seriousness become its undoing.



Jeremy Heilman