3.5 stars, (NR)
Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is a middle-aged Swedish journalist facing a few months in the hoosegow after being convicted of a crime he did not commit. While waiting for the appeals process to run its course, he takes a job investigating a decades-old missing-person case in the boondocks. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is a sullen 24-year-old with a hostile attitude and a punk look complete with piercings and a big-ass dragon tattoo. She's a skilled computer hacker who earns her money as a private investigator.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a whodunit based on the first novel in Steig Larsson's hugely successful Millennium trilogy. The book has sold over 10 million copies worldwide since its release in 2005. The movie was a smash in Scandinavia. Thanks to its subtitles and two-and-a-half-hour running time, it's playing the art house circuit over here.
The lead characters drew me into the story. I appreciated reporter Blomkvist's grim calm in the face of his legal troubles and the attendant tabloid frenzy. And Salander's mix of smarts and unrelenting hostility was engaging. I usually don't take to characters like hers, but I wanted to see how the ill-tempered young woman and the composed older man would react to one another when they finally met.
I enjoyed most of director Niels Arden Opley's work as well. Aerial images of the rural Swedish setting are evocative, particularly the long shots of bridges. Opley's use of photographs of key characters was reminiscent of Twin Peaks. The recurring image of the missing woman reminded me of the oft-seen yearbook photo of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks except that the missing woman's image seemed to be actively surveying and assessing the actions of those working on her behalf. Chilling.
There's a lot of story at play in the film, but it took me a while to get invested in the missing person case. Eventually, the lead characters pulled me in and the specifics of the case began to matter.
What was especially interesting was watching a Swedish film filled with stark imagery following the whodunit/thriller template. We see details of the investigative process that waver between being compelling and playing like just another episode of an American TV police procedural. Other American staples pop up, from a car chase complete with explosions to a textbook example of the "chatty killer syndrome", where instead of just murdering his foe, the killer talks to his captive. At length. Freely confessing all that he has done, because "What does it matter? You'll be dead in a few minutes anyway!" On and on he goes, yapping away, giving the captive time to devise an escape or for rescuers to arrive. I'm not complaining about that particular cliché, mind you, just noting it.
About the end of the movie. In a mystery, one longs for resolution, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo goes overboard. Everything gets explained, everything, including the trumped-up case against the journalist and the back story of the punk private investigator. Too much explanation demystifies the characters and the atmosphere generated by the film. Adventures do not need to be wrapped up so tidily.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has scenes of graphic violence. It has scenes of graphic yapping. The good outweighs the bad, though. I'm glad I saw this one.