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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Dir: Niels Arden Oplev

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Music Box Films

152 Minutes

While it is best to enter The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo knowing little about the plot, that may be impossible given the near-ubiquity of the source material. The popular book was written by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish journalist who died in 2004 from a heart attack at age 50, and has become a massive hit since being discovered and published posthumously to the point where Larsson was the second bestselling author in the world in 2008. Yet, for all the fanfare the book received, the Swedish film version has quietly been released by Music Box Films to the point where my friends who are big fans of the novel had no idea a film version was even in the works. Maybe it’s got something to do with Americans and subtitles.

In brief: Dragon Tattoo opens as journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is indicted for libel and about to head to jail for a brief spell. But before he goes, corporate giant Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) invites Blomkvist to his island with a lucrative job offer- help solve a mystery that has plagued the rich man for 40 years.

Divulging anymore will ruin the fun of this pulpy mystery, a twisty film that feels promising at first but then devolves into a sensational, lurid tale that rivals Silence of the Lambs for squirm-factor. While Dragon Tattoo does not lose any of its momentum over its extended run time, there are some very brutal, exploitative scenes that feel like they add nothing to film except to slake our desire for vengeance and torture porn. Of course, one can argue director Niels Arden Oplev is being true to the source material, yet are we supposed to cheer when the heroine rapes a bad guy up the ass with a dildo? Only in a film can we actually feel vindicated watching someone do that to someone else, no matter how much they “deserve” it.

The mystery at the heart of Dragon Tattoo is compelling enough, but Oplev executes it in a workmanlike cadence that pulls from Filmmaking 101, employing flashbacks, superimposing ghostly photos and a glossing over of characters that must have had a larger role in the book. Yet, it is impossible to write off The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Nyqvist makes a sympathetic protagonist and the female-empowering theme is refreshing. Hell, the original title of the book is Men Who Hate Women.

While an American remake is inevitable, the people in Hollywood will be hard-pressed to come up with something more garish than the Swedes. Though it lacks nuance, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is both a exhilarating and disturbing way to spend an evening.

by David Harris

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