Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The (2011): Swedish Murder Mystery, Starring Noomi Rapace

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which broke box-office records in Scandinavia, is a dark, grim and brooding character-driven murder mystery, based on the first book of Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson’s posthumous Millennium trilogy of best-sellers novels.
The book is one of the decade’s major literary success stories, selling over 8,000,000 copies worldwide, and the film adaptation is the highest grossing Swedish film in history and 2009’s highest-grossing film in Europe.
“Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” recently won the Audience Award at the 2010 Palm Spring Film Fest, which bodes well for its potential commerciality (I am aware that it’s a foreign language film that runs 152 minutes). Music Box will release the picture in a platform mode beginning March 19.
Blending strong, original characters with a twisted, suspenseful story, the film is nevertheless not perfect. It’s flawed, self-indulgent,  and self-important (borderline pretentious) in its effort to make social commentary on society’s ills and neo-Nazism. But for the most part, “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is so fluidly directed and so expertly acted, and the two central person so intriguing that it’s easier to disregard the film’s various shortcomings.
Essentially, the movie is a tale of two mismatched individuals, both outsiders and outcasts, albeit for different reasons. They join forces in resolving what turns out to be a nasty rape and sleazy murder enigma. Mind you, the crime took place over forty years ago but it continues to haunt individuals, the police force, and society at present.
In 1964, a girl named Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan.  Her body was never found, yet her beloved uncle is convinced that she was brutally murdered and, moreover, that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family.
In the first sequence, we meet a disgraced financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a professional charged and convicted of libeling a powerful corporate exec.
Later on, we are introduced to Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a troubled but resourceful computer hacker, who is the titular anti-heroine. Trust me: you have not seen such a bizarre, original creature on the American screen before, a tough, bisexual (perhaps even androgynous punk. And Rapace’s stunning, fully realized turn makes the character all the more interesting.  Pierced and tattooed, and severe and harsh as nails, the 24-year-old Lisbeth is a woman of action and few words. She sleeps with women and men, and bears more than one chip on her robust shoulders, due to a troubled past, which is gradually disclosed.
The first hour or so is based on cross-cutting between the two individuals, who connect via the Internet world but do not meet face-to-face until the second half of the plot.  In fact, the story begins in Stockholm, but then quickly moves to the barren countryside of Hedeby Island, which is in the Northern part of Sweden.
Using intuition, skills, and a few clues, the odd pair manages to link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from over four decades ago. They thereupon begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history, full of skeletons that have been hidden in its closets.  Indeed, the Vangers turn out to be a secretive clan, with a turbulent socio-political past.  Patriarch Henrik Vanger is surrounded by alcoholic relatives, physically and mentally abusive parents, members of the Nazi party; the movie may have too many colorful characters for its own good. As Vanger, the powerful industrialist, Sven-Bertil Taube gives a commanding performance.
Unprepared for what they’re facing, Blomkvist and Salander need to pull out all of their resources and energy in order to unravel the mystery. And toward the end, they actually need to protect their own lives, which become endangered.
It’s therefore too bad that the last reel, in which one of the duo is captured and tortured by the villain of the piece, is so trashy and formulaic. It cheapens the narrative and feels as if it belongs to a standard-issue police procedural-serial killer.
Even so, there’s much to recommend about the film, from its twists-and turns plot through smooth storytelling, sharp characterization, and splendid acting all the way to its accomplished technical values, especially the crisp lensing by Eric Kress and Jens Fischer, production design by Niels Sejer, and music from Jacob Groth.
Spoiler Alert
In the last reel, Mikael and Lisbeth get more intimate with each other, but I think their sexual scenes are rather weak, especially in terms of what we know about the characters.
End Note
Author Stieg Larsson, who died suddenly in 2004, left behind three unpublished novels, known as the ”Millennium” trilogy, which have become a global sensation, elevating Larsson to the world’s second best-selling author last year, right behind “The Kite Runner”’s Khaled Hosseini (which was made into a disappointing film by Marc Forster).
Sony Classics is going to remake the film in English in 2011, and I will not be surprised if David Fincher is asked to direct. It’s right up his alley: The Swedish pictture bears some resemblance to Fincher’s “Seven” and “The Game.”
Cast
Mikael Blomkvist           MICHAEL NYQVIST
Lisbeth Salander           NOOMI RAPACE
Erika Berger                 LENA ENDRE
Henrik Vanger               SVEN-BERTIL TAUBE
Martin Vanger               PETER HABER
Nils Bjurman                 PETER ANDERSSON
Cecilia Vanger              MARIKA LAGERCRANTZ
Dirch Frode                  INGVAR HIRDWALL
Gustav Morell               BJÖRN GRANATH
Harriet Vanger              EWA FRÖLING
Holger Palmgren           PER OSCARSSON
Dragan Armanskij         MICHALIS KOUTSOGIANNAKIS
Annika Giannini            ANNIKA HALLIN
Malin Eriksson               SOFIA LEDARP

Crew

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Screenplay by: Rasmus Heisterberg: Nikolaj Arcel
Producer: Sören Staermose
Director of photography: Eric Kress
Additional Director of photography: Jens Fischer
Editors: Anne Østerud, Jannus Billeskov Jansen
Production Designer: Niels Sejer
Music: Jacob Groth
Supervising sound editor: Peter Schultz
Sound recording: Anders Hörling
Casting: Tusse Lande, Kompani Lande AB
Costume: Cilla Rörby
Make up: Jenny Fred
Line Producer: Susann Billberg Rydholm
Production manager: Tobias Åström
First assistant director: Daniel Chilla
Coordinating Producer: Jon Mankell
Property master: Paul Gustavsson
Location manager: Pia Ekedahl