By the book (except it’s not): Oplev makes a clean, apolitical murder mystery out of Larsson’s bloated but politically fierce text

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Dir. Niels Arden Oplev

Has a national history’s (seemingly) thwarted fascist dreams expressed through its frustrated leftovers, and official process as the dehumanised maintenance of gendered violence, but does less to emphasise the sprawling sense of the same. Maybe because this is all obvious to Oplev, but the 2011 one gets to the roots of the Vanger family tree and doesn’t lose focus of the national parallel: the same spirit that ‘built modern Sweden’ dreamt fascist Sweden and was always insidious enough to front as democratic. (The later film’s blood’s also thicker, blacker, stickier). It removes a great deal of the noise for its telling, too, which unfortunately means that everything it loses in airport literature, it makes up for in airplane cinema. It’s only ever as boring as someone decided the procedural has to be in the middle, but then once it’s shaken boring its sense of release feels less like evil rearing its head than like pieces falling into place (my objection to which suggests a personal incompatibility with the procedural format).

Nyqvist’s Mikael is sweet but in over his head (which Craig translates to pallid brusqueness), and it’s sad how easy it is to lose sight of Rapace’s Salander post-2011. It’s not like comparing Cox’s Hannibal Lecter to Hopkins’ scenery chewing capital p Performance five years on because both of these are equally tenable (I struggle with Hopkins in that film)- Rapace finds believability somewhere between plastic and understated where Mara leans into Weirdo, elaborated superhero. That worked there, this works here. Oplev’s has a keen sense of the passage of time and an isolated geography as well, which I appreciate more than Fincher’s immediately retrievable threads of data, though it becomes obvious through consideration that the more I dislike about that esteemed director, the more I encounter the things that elevate him above stylistic and thematic anonymity. Which is to say that I hate less about this film, but there’s also very little available in it to care about. I don’t want to say that I’d rather find something objectionable than forgettable (it shouldn’t be one or the other), but also that’s exactly what I mean. There’s beauty in dirt, and this is almost too respectable.

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