Most typical murder mysteries rely on a stock set of characters to play detective. You can usually bet that the protagonist trying to get to the bottom of the mystery is either a detective, a plucky kid, a middle aged couple or… a journalist. David Fincher’s remake of this gritty Swedish thriller is a murder mystery where a journalist plays detective to uncover the truth.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is based on the novel by Swedish ex-journalist Stieg Larsson. The film follows the exploits of disgraced investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig. He is hired by a Swedish industrialist to track down the killer of a young girl 40 years before. Blomkvist is assisted in his investigation by Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara, a young computer hacker.
The one issue I initially had with the film was that the mystery never intrigued me for long enough. In each scene Blomkvist and Salander uncover some piece of evidence which begs further questions, however invariably in the next scene they find the piece of evidence to solve it. In other words I never felt captivated by the plot for long enough, it would whet my appetite and then promptly feed me in wholly unsatisfying way.
However on repeat viewings I appreciate the film as an artful exploration of atmosphere, not so much as a mystery film. Fincher has a knack with his films of creating an unsettling and tense atmosphere that you cannot help but be drawn to and be intrigued by. The sort of film, like Se7en which despite the grisly subject matter, you will want to watch again and again.
What can a journalist learn from the film?
One of the most interesting lessons which can be taken from this film is the importance of organised note-taking. Blomkvist is very very organised. He has separate notice boards for each suspect and each member of the Vanger family on the wall of his cabin. He catalogues every photo and every note on his laptop. This means that when it comes to examining a series of photographs, they are already scanned on his computer so flicking through the album makes a vital piece of information very clear.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo does raise some tricky questions for journalists. The film begins with Blomkvist being sued for libel after an article of his accuses a prominent industrialist of taking money from the mob. His evidence does not stack up and he is found guilty of defamation. A quirk in Swedish libel law is skipped over in this English-language version of the film which explains why Mikael can go and investigate a 40-year-old murder mystery before a brief and somewhat enjoyable spell behind bars.
*SPOILERS DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO*
By the end of the film Blomkvist gets his own back on this prominent industrialist, he proves that he was right. How? Lisbeth uses her expert skills as a computer hacker to prove that he was funded by a large criminal network. Blomkvist refuses to reveal his source to his editor, good man, however he only has this new information due to illegal activity on Salander’s part. This makes watching the film in a post-Leveson atmosphere somewhat uncomfortable. It is hard to applaud his investigative journalism when it relies so heavily on Salander’s illegal skills.
Let me know what you think of the film by tweeting your thoughts to @nickjhp and use the hash-tag #JournoFilms.