The uncommonly spectactular “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, written by Nikolai Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg, based on a novel by Stieg Larsson, begins as the story of an investigative reporter who’s set up for libel and gets sentenced to prison. Then it becomes a whodunit when, in the six months before he has to go to prison, he agrees to solve a presumed murder. Finally, and seamlessly, it ends as a love story that involves one of the most compelling and unlikely cinematic heroines of the 21st century. It’s thrilling, it’s touching, and it’s powerful. For all its violence that’s fueled by misogyny, creed, desperation, and just plain evil, it’s a strangely charismatic film: if it doesn’t rivet you to your seat for its 148 minutes, nothing will.
The movie quickly jettisons the premise of the story, namely, what is Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to do when, choosing not to appeal his sentence, he has time to kill before he gets locked away? Martin Vanger (Peter Haber), the head of a dynastic family business, hires him to investigate the fate of his niece, Harriet Vanger (Ewa Froling), who disappeared 40 years ago at the age of 16. He’s aided by Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a abused waif and brilliant computer security tech/hacker who glommed onto Mikael’s time-before-jail assignment after she broke into his computer because she was convinced of his innocence. They make a perfect, problem-solving pair – he’s experienced, patient and systematic and she’s headstrong, edgy, and intuitive; they’re both ferociously relentless. Together they meet all manner of peril as they unravel the dark and troubled history of the dysfunctional Vanger family, a history that traces back to the Nazi roots of Vanger’s brother Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube). A romance blooms between Mikael and Lisbeth, they find out what happened to Harriet – and it’s not at all what you expect, and while Mikael marinates in the pokey, Lisbeth finds the evidence that proves his innocence and does something that leads right into Larsson’s equally magnificent sequel.
Nyqvist’s Mikael is a credible hero, so much so that at first we think the story’s about him. He’s civil enough not to appeal his wrongful imprisonment, he takes on the sleuthing work for all the right reasons, though a huge stipend didn’t hurt, and he even shows some sympathy for the guy who tried to kill him. He’s perfectly paired with Rapace who might appear to be his exact opposite in matters of fashion, attitudes about illegal hacking, and vengeance but they’re really both sides of the same Swedish krona. The story’s really about her. She’s troubled – Oh God, what a backstory. She’s proactive – watch what she does to her demented legal guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson). And yet, they play to each other’s character’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that staggers belief.
Oplev has constructed a movie that is as memorable as it is well crafted. He hits the major beats of the movie with unerring precision and heart-rending sensitivity. There’s Mikael’s conviction, his decision to work for Vanger, the threat that almost costs him and Lisbeth their lives, and the finale that not only solves Vanger’s problem but shows that love doesn’t judge by appearance and attitude, personal history or present conditions; it simply floats in like a butterfly with a sledgehammer and simply is.