‘Dragon Tattoo’: Brutally effective Swedish whodunit tough to watch at times

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, March 18, 2010 12:30pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The whodunit mechanism of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is so sure-fire, it can survive a brutal movie version and still work. And this particular movie version (there may be more coming) is brutal.

An adaptation of the first installment in the late novelist Stieg Larsson’s wildly successful “Millennium” trilogy, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a Swedish-language production, as befits the nationality of the author. But be assured that plans are afoot for a Hollywood re-do.

Larsson’s novel was originally released in Europe as “Men Who Hate Women,” which is a much more apt and intriguing title for a story that involves various levels and generations of misogynistic violence.

The hook is this: A super-wealthy industrialist hires a disgraced journalist named Mikael Blomqvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) to look into an unsolved disappearance that happened 40 years earlier. The man’s niece vanished and is presumed dead, but no proof or motive has ever been found.

Blomqvist takes the job, which quickly brings him to the attention of a punky, androgynous computer hacker, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace). Her own experiences of abuse at the hands of powerful men contribute to her ferocity in looking for the lost girl.

The plot relies on some pretty hokey mystery cliches — there are even enigmatic biblical verses that must be deciphered, a staple of serial-killer tales. But let’s give the movie a pass on that; after all, the pleasure of reading or watching mysteries has a lot to do with those kinds of conventions.

What makes the movie tough to watch is director Niels Arden Oplev’s blunt approach to everything, whether it’s the scattering of clues to the protracted scenes of sexual violence.

Granted, some payback is in store for the perpetrators of said violence, but I wonder if that justifies the extended attention given to scenes of rape and murder.

Other than to create sensation, that is. Which “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” certainly does — effectively enough that it became the biggest-grossing film in Europe last year.

Along with its bruising momentum, it boasts two striking actors in the lead roles: Nyqvist has the weary manner and beat-up face of a Scandinavian Tommy Lee Jones, and Rapace is an intense, unusual presence.

You can already imagine the Hollywood remake: Russell Crowe and Keira Knightley? We’ll find out shortly.

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