It's a shame that Steig Larsson reached international success with a trio of posthumous novels, as it would appear any notoriety he experienced as an author in his homeland of Sweden when he was alive was modest as best. However, his three posthumous books, dubbed the "Millennium Trilogy," have been well received around the world, resulting in three Swedish films. The first film, titled The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was a sleepy $13 million production that wound up making more than $100 million globally, and it's finally coming to American shores, ahead of an American interpretation of the books.
For those not familiar with the first book, it was adapted by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, and directed by Niels Arden Oplev. The film focuses on two main characters, the first being Mikael (Michael Nyqvist), a reporter who is found guilty of libeling a Swedish businessman and has six months of freedom before he reports to prison for his actions. In the meantime, he takes on an interesting investigation, given to him by an Henrik Vanger, an elderly industrialist. The goal: investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of Vanger's foster daughter, who he presumes was murdered. During the investigation, he meets Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace). Lisbeth is employed by the security firm that was responsible for gathering evidence against Mikael in the libel case. Lisbeth is also a parolee and is being sexually abused by her latest parole officer, seemingly unaware of the potential of Lisbeth's violent behavior. Together Lisbeth and Mikael try to find out the whereabouts of the missing girl, along with who was responsible for her disappearance.
For disclosure's sake, I went into the film blind, though I attempted to read the book, but could never find myself getting into it as much as I was planning. It was far more detailed than I wanted it to be. So I can't comment on significant differences that may exist between the book and film, but as a film, it serves as a solid investigation movie, though there are some nits I'd like to pick on about the story and those in it.
First, Mikael and Lisbeth as they were written appear to be surprisingly unremarkable. Each has their own respective closet skeletons, and their kinship drifts toward the "friends with benefits" vibe. The story itself possesses most of the same ingredients present in many other thrillers. As the story goes along, the investigation part of it with Mikael and Lisbeth is solid, though the last part of the second (and most of the third) act are a little too conventional. It's almost as if I was watching a Thomas Harris novel, set in Sweden, surrounding a 40-year-old murder; I could see the ending coming with 45 minutes left in this two and a half hour movie. It felt like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was good, but not great. Am I wrong, or did I have unreasonably high expectations?
With that said, if there was one reason to watch the film, Rapace is it. She plays the perfect mix of silence and unleashed fury, and during her encounters with the parole officer, you can see that she allows herself to get pushed until the P.O. crosses the line, but (as an earlier scene in a subway station shows), if someone else starts something, rest assured she will finish it. It's that rage that serves as strength of sorts, one that you can see subtly in the interactions with Mikael.
Rapace's performance aside, if you're looking to watch The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to see what the fuss is all about, you might be setting yourself up for a letdown in seeing that it's "just another movie." But when you view it as just another movie, you'll see that Oplev doesn't waste much in the two and a half hours he has, and the whodunit nature of the film keeps you involved and interested, if only until the last several moments.
As a postscript, Larsson brought Mikael and Lisbeth back for two more installments (the second is coming to select American cinemas in the coming days as of publication date), and there is enough chemistry between the pair to induce curiosity over how the Millennium trilogy plays itself out. That may be the underlying intelligence of Larsson's legacy; he has millions of people wanting more.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo comes to Blu-ray in 2.35:1 widescreen and in high definition using the AVC codec. The exterior sequences are pretty well detailed, and image detail is decent, though both aren't as sharp as you'd expect. Blacks aren't too deep and tend to crush at times, and the image has a few moments of softness. I'm going to guess that this is as good as the original film is likely to look, and while it might not be reference quality, it's on the lower end of a respectable pack of Blu-ray discs out now.
You can either be the ugly American and listen to the English Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, or go the purist route and enjoy the Swedish Dolby Digital 5.1 one. There's not a lot of action in the film per se, but the lossy tracks are still disappointing. Dialogue is slightly inconsistent and most of what happens resonates in the front channels. The rear channels chime in sparsely, and there is one or two instances of subwoofer engagement (notably during the subway station fight sequences), but the outdoor scenes are hushed and hardly effective. You can listen to it, but don't expect a revelation.
Not much; when the first listed extra is the American trailer (1:43), that's a sign things are a little light. After that is a family tree of the Vangers. Rapace does an English-language interview presumably recorded during the British press junket where she talks about her auditioning for the role and how she approached playing the character. She even recalls a unique experience when she wrapped her performance in the production and shares that her mother plays Lisbeth's mother in the film. At just 12:31, it's a good interview and she covers a variety of topics in and out of the film. There are also loads of trailers for other Music Box releases, along with a preview for The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second film in the trilogy.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is entertaining to watch and for nothing else can sate your need to discover the reason for all the hubbub. Whether or not it's inferior/superior to the book is a separate discussion, but as a film on its own merits, it's not shabby. The lack of any entertaining supplements or jaw-dropping technical bragging rights make it more of a rental disc than a must buy.