March 24, 2013
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Grade: 64/100

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Sven-Bertil Taube

What it's about. Set in Sweden, filmed in Swedish, and based on the posthumous bestseller by Stieg Larsson. Set in 2005, one year after Larsson's death at age 50.

Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) is the ranking journalist at Millennium, a presumably liberal muckracking magazine. Mikael is set up by powerful financier Wennerström, and in due course is convicted of libel and sentenced to prison. Before his term begins, he accepts an offer by elderly plutocrat Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the presumed murder of his niece, who disappeared in 1966 at the age of 16. The suspects consist of the entire Vanger family at the time, who had reunited for a business meeting.

Mikael breaks off an affair with co-worker Erika (Lena Endre) and heads to the scene of the crime, a small, frigid, and isolated island near Sweden. He is soon joined by Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), a heavily tattooed young goth hacker. Lisbeth has almost supernatural powers of investigation, and great progress is made on the case. This concerns the guilty party in the Vanger family, a fiendish mass murderer who makes two attempts on Mikael's life.

Though Mikael is first billed, much of the movie is about Lisbeth. Her troubled past includes setting her own father on fire. More recently, her beloved parole officer has had a stroke and is replaced with Nils, a sadistic monster (Peter Andersson) who coerces Lisbeth into degrading sexual acts. She gets her revenge, and more so, presumably to the audience's approval. She also fights off a small group of subway marauders.

Lisbeth's connection to Mikael is that she investigated him for Henrik prior to his hire. Apparently amazed that a nice honest guy exists in Sweden, Lisbeth stalks Mikael via the internet, provides unsolicited help in cracking the case, and finally moves in with him on the Swedish island, where they are shagging in no time despite the fact that Lisbeth is earlier depicted as a lesbian and should have no sexual interest in a dumpy man pushing 50.

The present movie was, of course, remade for an English audience in 2009, with James Bond actor Daniel Craig taking the lead role.

How others will see it. The tremendous success of the Larsson "Millennium" novels generated intense interest in the movie. It made many multiples of its budget. The film was ignored by the Academy Awards but drew numerous nominations worldwide, particularly for Noomi Rapace's unconventional antihero role. It also had nominations for Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay.

At the movie has a huge total of 111,730 user votes, which suggests many more people have seen the movie on video than in theaters. The user ratings are surprisingly consistent at 7.8 out of 10, regardless of age or gender.

How I felt about it. It is a good movie. There is an intelligence to the direction and screenplay. The key character, of course, is Lisbeth, since the remaining roles are a parade of Good (Mikael, Erika, Henrik, Plague) and Bad (Martin, Wennerström, Harald, Nils) stereotypes.

Lisbeth is much more complex. Her childhood traumas have made her both tough and antisocial. She has a Batman syndrome of taking down villains, including rapists (Nils), serial killers (Martin), and robber barons (Wennerström). We wonder about her sexuality.

More problematic is her ability to solve cases in minutes that teams of experienced detectives have been unable to solve over decades. Nobody is that good.

The real problem with the plot, though, is our McGuffin, the missing sixteen-year-old niece from 1966. How, exactly, did she learn that a family member was a serial killer, to the extent that she would know the initials of the victims and the Bible passage that explains the method of their deaths? And why would she put this information in code into her diary when a mailed letter to the police department would be far more effective? Particularly after she is safe in Australia.

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