Film >Tattooed and screwed
Late Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published novel gets a gripping adaptation in director Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The movie takes its time entangling a reporter-turned-investigator and a hacking punkette into its multigenerational family mystery, but once it gets there it becomes a solid, old-fashioned slab of detective fiction.
Investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) has just lost a libel case, causing him to leave his publication in disgrace and await his prison sentence. Freshly unemployed, he’s contacted by Henrik Vanger, an elderly member of a wealthy family that operates an industrial empire. Back in the 1960s, Vanger’s niece, Harriet, went missing, and he presumes she was murdered, partly because every year on his birthday he receives a framed pressed flower in the mail from a faraway locale. It’s the same gift Harriet used to give him, and he feels it’s her killer haunting him.
Blomkvist agrees, but doesn’t think he’ll turn up anything, though he catches a break when Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace, a gem as the titular girl) enters his life. Vanger hired a private security firm to vet Blomkvist before hiring him, and Lisbeth was the computer-hacking background checker. She deems Blomkvist clean and follows his investigation remotely.
Leather-clad, skin inked, face pierced and hair dyed jet black, Lisbeth wears her distrust of everything and everyone around her on her coldly expressionless face, and her social awkwardness is so severe she comes across as borderline cognitively or psychologically impaired. Something in her past made her this way, but Lisbeth is no defenseless victim: She can, and will, turn the tables on any threat.
Once Blomkvist convinces Lisbeth to work with him, their investigation – and the movie – really picks up the pace. Solving linguistic puzzles, poring over old photos and good-old talking to people steer Blomkvist and Lisbeth toward a series of unsolved murders leading up to Harriet’s disappearance. And soon, they find themselves considering mystical religious motivations, confronting anti-Semitism and Nazi sympathies, wondering if a serial killer is still at large and uncovering old Vanger family secrets that none of Henrik’s relatives want to discuss. Oplev handles all these leads and misdirection with consummate precision, cutting together a thrilling, expertly paced journey into a truly unsettling place, where the occasional flashes of absolutely brutal violence are as uncomfortable as they should be.
That arresting horror is built into the novel: Its original Swedish title is Män Som Hatar Kvinnor — Men Who Hate Women — and here the feral misogyny that populates the crime genre looks and feels as despicable as it is. It doesn’t aspire to reinvent the crime flick; it merely delivers the genre. But, goddamn, does it deliver.