Adapted from the first of the late Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of detective-like novels, (The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest are the others in the series), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a dark and brooding story that only gets more disturbing over the course its 152 minute runtime, culminating less in narrative satisfaction than in the feeling of being let out of a choke hold. It’s an absolutely brutal movie about a young woman with a dark past (and present) that finds herself involved with an investigative journalist trying to solve what might be a 40 year old murder. The Swedes have the highest suicide rate in the world. No wonder if they’re walking around with this kind of stuff in their heads. Nevertheless, for those who prefer their mystery thrillers sautéed in sadism as well as the everyday nasty of regular Hollywood fare, this may be your thing. Girl is way edgier than any American crap, which may be enough to separate lovers of the dark side from their ticket money before Hollywood brightens it up for an English-language crowd and casts the remake with Amy Adams.
A journalist has recently been discredited and Lisbeth, (Noomi Rapace), the titular character, sets out to help him. Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) had been investing his time in what looked like a large-scale corporate corruption case, but the venture instead leads to his conviction for libel. Meanwhile, Lisbeth, the dark and brooding protagonist, is winding her way though series of personal entanglements that involves a childhood event hinted at across the arc of the film. Her event is among the most startling acts you could ever see on film, and it doesn’t even occur onscreen. That’s said, it’s not as brutal as many other acts in this film, which do take place onscreen.
Beneath all of this, there is a mystery.
Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the patriarch of the powerful Vanger family, calls in Mikael to investigate the disappearance of Harriet (Ewa Fröling), his favorite niece, who vanished some 40 years ago. As Mikael digs into the old case he finds himself being lead by the girl with the dragon tattoo, whose skills propel him toward the darkest set of conclusions about what happened to Harriet Vanger, and another 100 other women over the course of some 60 years.
Narratively, the film is fragmented, which reveals its novelistic origins. It has wildly disparate sequences, not the least of which includes a “b” storyline that explains how Lisbeth came to be so—scary. She’s captivating, but mostly scary, and for good reason. Other sequences are the fodder of book writing and it would have served screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg well to lose some this, both to cleanup the narrative and cut 20 minutes off that 152 runtime.
Unless, of course, you like your brutally sadistic thrillers long and slow.
Distributor: Music Box Films
Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Peter Haber and Sven-Bertil Taube
Directors: Niels Arden Oplev
Screenwriters: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg and Stieg Larssen
Producers: Søren Stærmose
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller; Swedish-language, subtitled
Running time: 152 min.
Release date: March 19 ltd.