Guess the Swedish title wasn’t catchy enough. Too bad. It captures the horror that is at the heart of this moody Scandinavian noir.
As the movie opens disgraced reporter Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) has resigned as publisher of Millennium after losing a libel suit filed by the subject of one of his journalistic exposes in the monthly magazine.
You know the old saying “One door closes and another door opens.”
Mikael has barely packed up his laptop when he gets an offer he can’t refuse from wealthy retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) who is willing to pay Mikael big bucks to investigate the disappearance of his favourite niece forty years ago. Seems Harriet Vanger vanished without a trace from the family’s private island in the north of Sweden in the fall of 1966 and the case has never been solved.
Luckily the bemused middle aged journalist has 24 year old goth punk computer hacker Lisabeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to help him figure out some of the clues. As any good reporter can tell you one good story invariably leads to another. Soon the unlikely crime solving couple are navigating their way through a dark twisty mystery involving Swedish Nazis, ritualistic murders and a nasty dysfunctional family with sinister secrets.
The movie is based on the first book in a trilogy by the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson. Working with screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, director Neils Arden Oplev has reduced Larsson’s mammoth 800 page best seller to a fighting trim 152 minutes.
However, you don’t have to read the book to get sucked into the story. Oplev wastes no time introducing us to the main characters in revelatory ways and plugging us into the plot.
If you are a fan of the books, you won’t be disappointed by the casting. Nyqvist gives Mikael a kind of brooding, understated charm that befits our journalist hero and Rapace is a real find as the titular character. The actress plays Lisbeth with an almost feral intensity while at the same time revealing hints of the whipsmart intelligence and bruised psyche lurking just beneath the surface of that fearsome facade.
It is almost a shock to see the real Rapace who confides in an exclusive-to-Blu-Ray interview that she worried that producers would consider her “too girlish and feminine” for the role “even though I knew I could transform” into the character.
The onscreen chemistry between Nyqvist and Rapace does a lot to sell the idea of their improbable professional and romantic pairing.
Kudos as well to cinematographers Jens Fischer and Eric Kress who make the frigid settings and locations in the book come alive. I especially liked the way the natural beauty of the Swedish countryside acts as a kind of counterpoint to the unsettling feeling that something is deeply wrong with the people who inhabit this pristine landscape.
Both DVD and Blu-Ray discs come with the original Swedish audio track (with English subtitles) and an English dubbed track.
Having heard both tracks I have to say that the art of dubbing a foreign language film into English has come a long way from those badly synced Asian karate flicks of yore.
Still, I prefer hearing actors talk in their native language. If you want to get a feeling for the culture that could serve as a setting for such a unique thriller you really have to experience it firsthand in its original Swedish language version (yes, that means reading subtitles.)
NOTE: There is a relentlessly ugly (but mercifully brief) scene of sexual assault in this film. Viewers concerned with the scene should know that Lisabeth refuses to be a victim and exacts a brutal revenge on her oppressor. (The novel tends to be more graphic in its depictions of sexual violence.)