The Austin Chronicle

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Not rated, 152 min. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 2, 2010

The past is a charnel pit with perversities and systemic rituals that continue to foul the air of the present like a pall; no one escapes untainted in this grimly fiendish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's bestselling novel. The first in a trilogy, its Swedish title – Men Who Hate Women – cuts to the heartlessness of the matter far more swiftly and explicitly than its English retitling, but there you go. Director Oplev retains the English title but reportedly keeps much of the book's brutally meditative vision intact; I haven't read the source material, but if its scenes of revenging antiheroines and predatory policemen are as intense and disturbing as the nonsequential sequences that Oplev and adapting screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg have fashioned for the screen, then Larsson's novel has just bumped Dan Simmons' Black Hills off the top of my summer reading list. On the face of it, the film is something of an investigatively inclined thriller in the faux historical vein of Dan Brown's Da Vinci books. However, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo quickly realizes itself as something far more intriguing, better written, and no less sensationally topical than the Catholic Church's history in what is now the European Union. Chief among those intrigues is the disappearance, some 40 years earlier, of a young girl from a Swedish island. She was the niece of a now-82-year-old retired industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Taube, looking disconcertingly like Max von Sydow), who hires Stockholm-based journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) to investigate the seemingly impenetrable cold case. Running parallel to and finally weaving its way into Blomkvist's own storyline is the scrutiny of the fearsomely independent and black-clad, cycle-riding female hacker Lisbeth Salander (the aptly named Rapace): the girl with the dragon tattoo. Multilayered with varying strata of social commentary (the late author Larsson was himself a socially conscious journalist), the film has a taste for bleak exposé that seems more in line with the work of equally decedent Dutch provocateur Theo van Gogh. Oplev's film is deftly calculated to thrill even as it repulses. This is not your mother's murder mystery, unless your mother's maiden name is de Sade and she has an appallingly bleak vision of modern society that occasionally fixates on the historical misdeeds of the corporate/industrial world and the correction thereof. Still, for all its girth – the American cut runs to 152 minutes – this is an icily sleek masterwork of sustained suspense, much like Rapace's visceral, envelope-pushing performance. It's not, clearly, for everyone, but it is – like Rapace – a remarkable piece of work.

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