Thrilling but Brutal
With murder, mystery, revenge, Nazis, mistaken identity, familial dysfunction, and biblical scripture-based killings, what's not to like about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Swedish language film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's wildly popular 2008 novel? Throw in a tattoo gun used as a weapon and we're all set for a thrilling but brutal story that's as much an old-fashioned whodunit as it is a cutting-edge, modern tale of revenge.
Larsson, who died in 2004, left behind 3 unpublished novels -- known as the "Millenium" trilogy -- which vaulted the Swedish writer into the status of best- selling author of 2009. The film adaptation went on to become Sweden's highest grossing film in history and the highest grossing in all of Europe in 2009. It's sure to get a big thumbs-up from American viewers who can appreciate a clever mix of classic noir themes and commercialized filmmaking techniques.
The tattooed girl of the title is 20-something computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a rough-hewn, leather-wearing biker chick, who's as wise beyond her years as she is vulnerable and broken from a childhood of sexual abuse. She carries a 20-pound chip on her shoulder and will undoubtedly stop at nothing to get what she wants. And what she wants is to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a young girl. We soon learn that Lisbeth has been hired by a private security outfit to help find the 16-year-old Harriet Vanger who went missing some 40 years ago from a family gathering on a private island owned and inhabited by the resourceful but devious Vanger family.
The film's Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women, might lend better insight into Lisbeth's internal motivations, but the American title certainly labels her physical attributes quite accurately. Lisbeth not only sports one of the sweetest tattoos in film history but also one of the biggest. The markings stretch all the way down from her neck, which is encircled by the dragon's head, to her thigh where the creature's inky tail eventually terminates... the dragon's wings spanning from shoulder to shoulder. No worthy purpose in pointing out this title change (both the book and film were renamed upon American release), other than to illustrate yet another instance of corporate America hoping to soften the blow of a controversial title for the sake of making a buck. But then again, perhaps they're right. American hypersensitivity usually supersedes artistic expression.
During her investigation, Lisbeth runs into, and eventually teams up with, disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michale Nyqvist) who is also charged with trying to solve the mysterious circumstances of the girl's disappearance. Seems a dying Vanger uncle is clearing his closet before passing on to the next plane and hopes the investigative duo can expose the culprit... even if it means uncovering some deep, dark family secrets.
What follows is a twisty-turny series of good old-fashioned investigative work that will surely appeal to Sherlock Holmes fans. But we're also asked to endure some brutally graphic depictions of rape and incest that some may find hard to watch. Rest assured though, the mystery gets solved to satisfaction.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo boasts lots of moving parts and intersecting storylines that could easily become unwieldy in the hands of an unskilled director. But, working from a script from fellow Swedes Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Acel, director Niels Arden Oplev manages to keep all the balls in the air at once. He also injects the film with an exciting verve and unique sense of style that plays nicely against its labyrinthine complexity. All business and no craft would make the movie’s over two hour runtime seem like an exercise in tedium. Fortunately, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes across as smart and sexy instead. One of the few films this season that's both entertaining and intellectually stimulating, it’s as fun to watch as it is difficult to swallow. Adult audiences with a wide variety of tastes and preferences should be captivated by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
(Released by Music Box Films and rated “R” for disturbing violent content including rape, grisly images, sexual material, nudity and language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.