Millions of readers in Europe and the United States have bought and (presumably) read Stieg Larsson’s Swedish mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. How patient those millions must be. Digging through the 644 pages of the first book, with its inept backstory, banal characterizations, flavorless prose, surfeit of themes (Swedish Nazism, uncaring bureaucracy, corporate malfeasance, abuse of women, etc.), and—worst of all—author Larsson’s penchant for always telling us exactly what we should be feeling, I kept wondering if the story buried under all the information was worth the trouble.
To my surprise, the film’s answer turns out to be yes. Director Niels Arden Oplev and his scriptwriters Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel have gotten rid of what is not essential in Larsson’s story and zeroed in on its one indispensable theme: how the sins of one generation—mainly the murderous abuse of women and children—are visited on the next. On-screen, the plot seems as efficient as it was diffuse in print.
The patriarch of an industrial dynasty hires a recently (and unfairly) disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, to investigate the disappearance, forty years ago, of a favorite niece. Blomkvist teams up with a young computer genius, Lisbeth Salander, whose punkish appearance and crypto-autistic behavior are intimidating, and the two amateur detectives uncover—surprise, surprise—all sorts of family skeletons and hideous evil.