the Dragon Tattoo
- Rated R
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All photos © Music Box Films
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
nless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard all about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the first in a trilogy of mystery novels from the late Swedish journalist turned author, Stieg Larsson. Already an international literary sensation, all three books have since been adapted for the big screen in their native language, and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has already become the highest-grossing Swedish film of all-time. So yes, if you’ve yet to jump on the Stieg Larsson Express, it might be time to finally believe the hype. But while the film version is an engaging thriller that makes the most of its complex characters, it’s still not as good as the book. A well-worn saying, perhaps, but true nonetheless.
It’s been 40 years since Harriet Vanger – the descendant of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families – went missing, and her disappearance continues to haunt her protective uncle, Henrik (Sven-Bertil Taube). Convinced that she was killed by a member of his dysfunctional family during an annual gathering on the island inhabitated by the Vanger clan, Henrik hires disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to reopen the case. Though he doesn’t expect to uncover anything new, Mikael eventually stumbles upon a series of brutal, religiously-themed sexual murders that may be related to Harriet's disappearance. But if he hopes to stay alive long enough to solve the mystery, he’ll need the help of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a reclusive computer hacker who has a few dark secrets of her own.
For a book so rich in detail, however, the film version doesn’t waste any time in jumping straight into the mystery. Fans might be surprised to discover so many subplots missing (Blomkvist’s private life is barely glossed over, and the rogues gallery of suspects never really factor into the story), but had director Niels Arden Oplev refused to trim some of the fat in Larsson’s novel, it would have been virtually impossible to film as written. The movie is already 152 minutes long, and it practically races through Larsson’s slow-burning mystery, cramming as much information into the surprisingly brisk runtime as possible. And besides, even though some things have changed, the film still hits many of the high points – particularly those involving Lisbeth, who, despite playing sidekick to Blomkvist for most of the story, emerges as somewhat of a hero.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Noomi Rapace has quickly become the face of the franchise, because she’s nothing short of magnificent in the buzzworthy role. The gorgeous Swedish actress is virtually unrecognizable as the tortured hacker who, as Larsson writes, looks “as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers.” While the much-talked about rape scene involving Lisbeth (and the events that follow it) pretty much guarantees that every young actress in Hollywood will be campaigning for the part in David Fincher's upcoming American remake, it isn’t until she teams up with Blomkvist in the second act when the film really begins to soar.
Oplev deserves credit for crafting a well-paced crime thriller that stays mostly faithful to the source material, but it's the relationship between the two protagonists (and to a lesser extent, the chemistry between Nyqvist and Rapace) that is the real driving force of the film. It’s a shame that Larsson passed away before he could write more adventures for the crime-solving odd couple, because they're one of the most interesting screen duos in recent memory. Larsson's compelling mysteries are just the icing on the cake.