April 29, 2010

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (NR)
A disgraced journalist hunts for a teenaged girl who went missing decades ago in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a Swedish movie based on the first in the popular series of books by Stieg Larsson.

Mikael Bloomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is an investigative reporter whose big exposé on a powerful businessman has landed him in legal trouble. Charged and convicted of libel, he is awaiting jail time when he is hired by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to look into the 40-year-old disappearance of his 16-year-old niece, Harriet (Ewa Froling). The Vangers are a wealthy and powerful family and Harriet’s disappearance took place when they all convened for their annual meeting to discuss the business. Old house in the country, suspects dead and alive, money and even Nazis and weird religious overtones — this mystery has everything and Mikael leaves Stockholm to spend his time before the jail sentence kicks in doing the kind of shoe-leather investigating that brought him both fame and notoriety.

Into this old-fashioned Hercule Poirot-ish affair comes the very hard and new-fashioned Lisabeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the titular girl with the titular tattoo. She is a hacker, professionally, and digs into Mikael at the behest of Henrik. After Vanger hires him, she still watches Mikael and is soon herself dragged into the investigation. Meanwhile, she is dealing with an evil probation officer (probably not the right term but we learn she’s spent time in a psychiatric hospital and perhaps for this reason and due to her youth she has a government minder). He is only one in a line of abusive men she has known and she isn’t one to give in.

As with all layered foreign-language films like this, a bit is lost in translation, but overall we get an action-packed suspense movie with all the elements one looks for in a nice meaty mystery. (Meaty, but with a little flab — at 2 hours and 30 minutes, the movie could have come in a bit lighter without losing any essential parts.) It also gives us significantly more violence than you tend to get in American movies — where a Hollywood version might be operatic, this movie is grittily, horribly real with its violence.
But this is a solid film, one that reminded me a lot of Tell No One, a French mystery from a few years ago, with its twists and discoveries. Don’t let the subtitles pull you away from the on-screen action because, despite its length, the movie does regularly manage a fast-paced feel.

Perhaps best of all, it makes me want to read this book and the others in the series. This kind of tense, absorbing story is just waiting to be your beach read or your high-end popcorn flick. B

Not rated. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev and written by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg (from the novel of the same name, in its English translation, by Stieg Larsson), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is two hours and 32 minutes long, in Swedish with English subtitles and distributed in limited release by Music Box Films.