An Edgier Import Than Ikea

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is book turned Swedish exploitation mystery

The first film adaptation of the late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (Beam Me Up, Lord!, 2007), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is an enigmatic mystery thriller fired by the growling intensity of its goth-girl heroine Lisbeth Salander (ferociously played by Noomi Rapace). Although the large dragon tattoo that covers her back is never directly addressed in the film, the Asian symbol of primordial vengeance lurks gracefully at the frayed dark edges of every scene. Lisbeth is a freelance computer hacker/activist who comes to the aid of financial journalist/magazine editor Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) whose efforts at exposing corporate corruption have resulted in a prison sentence for libel.

In the months before abdicating his freedom, Blomkvist is hired by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to solve the 40-year-old mystery of his niece Harriet’s disappearance, which seems connected to other cases over several generations. Following in the same vein as The Red Riding Trilogy, here is an infectiously compelling mystery brimming with intriguing characters, and plenty of twists and turns. With more than a passing reference to Blow Up, Lisbeth and Blomkvist tear into the case from a guest house on Hedeby Island where rival family members still live. The fetishistic experience of searching for clues where none have been found before serves as a major hook that contributes to the romantic connection that builds between Lisbeth and the much older Blomkvist.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a sophisticated piece of exploitation cinema that announces its identity as such early on. Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) is the newly appointed attorney responsible for doling out financial support to Lisbeth. Poor Nils should know better than mess with such an obviously badass chick, but he rapes her anyway. Soon the phallus is on the other foot, and director Niels Arden Oplev takes great satisfaction in rewarding Lisbeth with her quick and just revenge. Definitely not for the squeamish, the over-the-top scene takes on a camp quality.

Although the film’s violent set-piece climax is drawn out to comic proportions, and the final tableau rings with a false note of commercial satisfaction, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a beautifully crafted thriller that kicks you in the head, heart and libido with equal force.