In 2009, Stieg Larsson was one of the bestselling authors in the world thanks to his Millennium Trilogy. The books weren't published until after his death at the age of 50 in 2004 due to a heart attack.
The crime novels have become global sensations and Larsson's native Sweden has already adapted all three books to the screen. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first one to make it to American shores, and it's such a successful, suspenseful journey into a terrifying Swedish family, I can hardly wait for parts two and three.
The first 20 or 30 minutes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are its weakest. The story flies all over the place, multiple characters are introduced and we get the meat of the Mikael Blomkvist's quest: what happened to a 16-year-old girl named Harriet? She vanished without a trace in 1966, and the patriarch of a wealthy and powerful family seeks the aid of Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to help him find out the truth.
Blomkvist is in his own sort of trouble. Found guilty of libel and facing a jail sentence for writing a sensational story about corruption in another prominent Swedish family, Blomkvist is just desperate enough to get embroiled in something even more dangerous: finding out if Harriet was murdered and who is the killer. The patriarch directs him at his own family as the first place to hunt for suspects. It seems they are a shady bunch with roots of Nazi fanaticism and greed among their chief sins.
At the same time, we learn about Blomkvist, we also see the second protagonist, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), as she heads toward becoming intermingled in the Harriet mystery.
Lisbeth is a pierced-out, black clad woman in her twenties who doesn't say much but has a photographic memory, is a whiz with technology and takes absolutely no crap. Cross her and she will exact revenge either calmly or like a feral animal. If she targets you, it will not be pretty. She also has a gigantic dragon tattooed onto her back.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a dark movie, full of somberness, sex and blasts of violence. It's one of the best crime thrillers I've seen in a while because of that deep, unrelenting darkness. Films about crimes and deviants shouldn't be nervous to enter the blackened heart of this world, and director Niels Arden Oplev isn't frightened to take us to those foreboding locations.
The setting of the film transpires mostly during the frigid, dim Swedish winter and that perfectly encapsulates the mood and tone of the film. The story, full of grim layers added onto grim layers, uses that oppressive lack of light to ratchet up the claustrophobia. The long nights add tension and weight. When the sun does come, it is crisp, blue and piercing, balancing against the unknown void of the secrets of the night.
The fun quality of a well-done mystery is how the more the viewer learns, the more it propels the story forward. Soon, you are hurtling down a passage as clues are revealed, each one leading to the next and to the next and to the next. Once the viewer is hooked into the story, it's impossible to escape from its grip before finding out what happened -- in this case to Harriet. When the set-up and execution is as good as this, the momentum is exhilarating.
It's no surprise, but Hollywood is on board the Larsson train. You don't sell that many books without well-coifed, carpetbagger producers running in hordes from their immaculate production company offices. After all, more money is to be made. The American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is due in 2012. It will have the required stars and promotion overload, but I think I'll stick with the Swedish versions as I can't wait the necessary years it will take for the American versions to hit the multiplex.
The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo deserves to be as popular as the novels that have been embraced by crime-fiction fans around the world. It's a smart, thrilling, heart-pounding, black as midnight search for answers. When it was over, all I wanted to know was: when does The Girl Who Played with Fire come out?
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