*The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (NR)
Kimball's Peak Three
At over two and a half hours, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo features plenty of the three Rs: research, rape and revenge. Oddly, the latter two have little to do with the central plot, which involves a disgraced journalist hired to investigate a cold case involving the disappearance of a teen girl some 40 years earlier.
Based on the first of a trilogy of novels published after the death of Scandinavian author Stieg Larsson, the film won Sweden's Oscar-equivalent for 2009's Best Picture and Best Actress and is slated for an American remake. The winning actress, Noomi Rapace, is unforgettable here as Lisbeth, the titular 24-year-old Goth punk who's angry, antisocial and readily violent. But she's also brilliant and works as a hacker for a security company.
As the film opens, Lisbeth is tasked with surveilling Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a writer found guilty of libel against a shady businessman. He's sentenced to prison but has six months until he has to serve. On Christmas, Mikael is called to the estate of Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the elderly former CEO of his family's capitalist group. Henrik wants Mikael to re-examine the 1966 disappearance of his teenaged niece, Harriet. The cops have long given up on the case, but Henrik is hoping for closure before he dies.
So Mikael agrees to move to the estate and do some sleuthing, starting with Henrik's family, whom even the patriarch admits is a "pretty unpleasant bunch." And how: Their general money-grubbiness aside, some of the Vangers were also Nazis.
Meanwhile, Lisbeth's assignment to trail Mikael has officially ended but she continues to hack into his computer, convinced he was set up. When she sees a clue in one of his e-mails containing a code from Harriet's diary that he just can't crack, Lisbeth figures out the answer and forwards it to him. Soon they're partners on the case, uncovering the likelihood of a serial killer with the inevitable tangles a good thriller supplies.
Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev directs, lending the story an air of often-unexpected creepiness just as it's becoming clinical. (Unless watching someone leaf through stacks of invoices thrills you.) Depending on your level of cynicism, the answer to only one of those aforementioned tangles is beyond belief, quite an achievement considering that similar movies usually choose to frighten viewers in order to distract from lazy plots. And Nyqvist, a darker-haired and less Bond-ish Daniel Craig, is appealing and realistic as the smart-but-imperfect Mikael.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo does contain a lot of ugliness, including Lisbeth's backstory — she's spent time in a psych ward, and possibly prison — and her current nightmare with a new guardian who feels free to assault her as he pleases. The resolution to the Vanger case is also sickening, the worst of it set in a Saw-like warehouse as their suspect describes his rapes and murders, at one point using the word "fantastic" and calling what he does a "hobby."
The film shares a theme with the recently released Red Riding trilogy, but given all the violence involved, it's somehow a lighter sit; the script has occasional levity, and, more importantly, portrays Lisbeth as someone who can give as good (or bad) as she gets.
Yes, her actions essentially communicate that two wrongs make a right. But after seeing what she goes through, knowing that she has the strength to fight back makes you want to cheer.