If you're a fan of contemporary thriller fiction, you don't need me to tell you about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the first in the "Millennium Trilogy" of novels by the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson. The books have been a sensation everywhere, and their fans doubtless will be glad to see screen versions of their heroes, the angry goth hacker Lisbeth Salander and the purposeful journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
If you're a newcomer, though, then you're like me. And when I watched the gripping Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I was like, whoa.
There are components of a conventional crime thriller. The wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) summons Mikael (Michael Nyqvist), who's just been convicted in a libel case. Vanger's beloved niece Harriet disappeared 40 years earlier, and he wants Mikael to find out why. Mikael is aided by Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), and the pair unearth evidence of a decades-long murder spree.
As with any mystery franchise, the entertainment lies in learning about the investigators and watching them at work. This is not mystery entertainment in the mode of Hercule Poirot on PBS, though. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has sequences of breathtaking violence.
Lisbeth, the title character, is the fascinating soul of the film, and as played movingly by Rapace, she is wary, clever, mysterious, quick to rage. She has a horrifying backstory, which is revealed in bits and pieces, and much of the film's first half is given over to a subplot involving Lisbeth and her sadistic parole officer. In scenes that are hard to watch, he tortures and rapes her, then gets his grisly comeuppance.
The film's atmospherics are memorable. Creepy, insistent music. Sleek nighttime motorcycle rides. Montages of computer screens and photo negatives. The grimmest winter landscapes this side of Fargo. It's quite an event, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, an arresting mystery thriller with some deeply disturbing stuff around the edges.