According to recent industry news, David Fincher is already considering directing a remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a Swedish film adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published, bestselling Millennium trilogy. But it’s hard to say what the director of Seven and Zodiac could bring to a film that’s already as dark, moody, and vice-focused as Seven, and as intricately procedural as Zodiac. Niels Arden Oplev’s Dragon adaptation is already a poisonous gem, in large part thanks to fearless performances and an unwaveringly graphic sensibility that doesn’t flinch at the most horrific parts of Larsson’s story.
Michael Nyqvist (Together) stars as a disgraced independent journalist headed for jail after a rigged libel case. When Sven-Bertil Taube, one of the heads of a wealthy family, approaches him with a lucrative job offer, Nyqvist has little choice; he’s taken a leave from his paper and has nothing better to do during the six months until his sentence begins. Besides, the case intrigues him. Forty years ago, Taube’s 16-year-old niece suddenly disappeared without a trace. He assumes she was murdered, and before he dies, he wants to see the killer found and punished. Clues revealed as he explains the case give the ending away far too early, but knowing where the story is going doesn’t diminish the fascination with how it gets there, as Nyqvist navigates a large (and mostly undistinguished) cast of suspects and focuses on tiny details and determined sleuthing.
Still, it’s fortunate that Larsson finds a more colorful focus in Noomi Rapace, a gothy, bristling 24-year-old hacker who takes an interest in Nyqvist from afar. Dragon Tattoo gets much of its intensity from her combination of vulnerability and ferocity, particularly during the harrowing face-off between Rapace and her sexually abusive court-appointed guardian. At its most exploitative, Tattoo goes overboard into grotesquerie, with Oplev cranking up the soundtrack as if to keep his wincing audience from escaping by blasting them flat against their chairs. And like Fincher, he deliberately turns down the lights to create a seedy twilight world where the worst seems to happen as a matter of course. Tattoo is as much mood piece as mystery, and the mood is almost always disturbing. But Oplev and his screenwriters turn Larsson’s blunt prose into an artfully emotional film, and Fincher would be hard-pressed to do better.