Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Back in 2004, author Stieg Larsson died suddenly, leaving behind three unpublished novels known as the “Millennium” trilogy. The first in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has sold over 8 million copies worldwide. Larsson was the world’s second best-selling author last year, behind The Kite Runner‘s Khaled Hosseini.

So when producer Soren Staermose decided to adapt the books for the big screen, you can understand why many were dubious — including the film’s eventual director, Niels Arden Oplev. “I had heard of the books, but hadn’t read them,” he has explained. “Furthermore, I didn’t have the time and intention to do a thriller for the cinema.” Over a year later, he finally picked up a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and that changed his mind: “I saw it more as a mystery drama with strong and special characters who develop throughout the story.”

Flash forward to today, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the most popular film in Sweden’s history, and 2009’s top grossing film in Europe. Many would attribute this success to his heroine, Lisbeth Salander. She’s like the Harry Potter of crime fiction. “Lisbeth Salander is possibly the character in modern Scandinavian drama with the most expectations attached, and I can’t believe the luck we had in finding Noomi Rapace for this part,” Oplev has said. “Noomi has transformed herself into her character to a chilling perfection.”

The film opens with the trial of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the publisher of Millennium magazine in Stockholm. When he loses a criminal libel case against Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström, it’s decided that it would be best for Millennium if Blomkvist distanced himself for a while. That’s why he agrees to take on a strange assignment from Henrik Vanger, a wealthy old man hoping to solve the 40-year-old mystery of his niece’s disappearance. Because the entire extended family lives on Hedeby Island, Vanger suspects that it’s a corrupt insider who was behind it.

That’s where hacker/private investigator/tattooed-bad ass Lisbeth Salander comes in. Originally hired by Vanger to check out Blomkvist’s credentials, she becomes obsessed with his court case when she realizes that he was unfairly set up. (Salander’s no stranger to victimhood herself — when her court-ordered guardian suffers a brain hemorrhage, his replacement forces her to exchange sexual favors for an allowance for personal expenses. Brutal rape scenes follow.) Even when her gig is up, Salander continues to remotely monitor Blomkvist’s laptop. When he hits a wall with the Vanger case, she sends him an anonymous email detailing what she’s been able to figure out so far.

Which obviously leads Blomkvist straight to Salander’s doorstep — something that he suggests a talented hacker like her must have at least subconsciously intended. She ends up joining Blomkvist on the island, and they’re able to piece together a series of violent hate crimes against women (particularly Jewish women) that seem directly related to Vanger’s niece’s disappearance. (There’s a dark, and rather recent history of anti-Semitism in the Vanger clan.) In Sweden, the film title’s literal translation is “Men Who Hate Women.” As the body count begins to grow exponentially, it’s obvious why.

Knowing that the reporter and his unlikely collaborator are getting close to discovering the truth, the extended family have a meeting with Blomkvist and they ask him return to Stockholm. (Henrik Vanger, who is in the hospital, has no idea what they’re up to.) When Blomkvist refuses to give up his search, he ends up getting shot at while jogging in the woods. That’s when the whodunit really begins to heat up. We won’t give away any more, but we will say that just like Let the Right One In, this is one Swedish import worth checking out before Hollywood adapts it into a formulaic thriller. No, seriously. They’re talking George Clooney for the lead.

The film finally makes its way to US theaters this Friday in select Flavorpill cities (LA, NYC, and Chicago). We’re also giving away five copies of the book here. To enter, leave us a comment with your favorite female action hero. Be sure to use a real email address so that we can contact you with your prize.