Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist who was just 50 years old when he suffered a fatal heart attack on Nov. 9, 2004, after climbing seven flights of stairs to his office because the elevator in the building was out of order.
Among the things Larsson left were three completed manuscripts for novels comprising the Millennium series, which have joined the ranks of the bestselling books in the world. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest” are three remarkable crime novels that tell the story of the relationship between a financial reporter named Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant but bizarrely eccentric investigator, who join forces to solve a fascinating crime. Books this good inevitably make their way to the silver screen, and Swedish filmmakers already have crafted outstanding movies of all three of them.
But the American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” just opened nationwide a few weeks ago, and it is so good that it should be a lock for a number of Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actress. In this riveting mystery, Daniel Craig portrays Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist who is the managing editor of “Millennium” magazine. The main purpose of Mikael’s publication is the exposure of financial corruption, but he recently overstepped his boundaries in a story and has lost a major libel suit. Therefore, he decides to take a break from work until he can get things straightened out in his life, but he doesn’t have much of a vacation because Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), an outrageously rich businessman, contacts him and summons him to his estate on an isolated island located on the frigid Swedish coast.
When Mikael arrives at Vanger’s house, the old man explains that his niece disappeared about 40 years ago, and he thinks she was murdered. He is willing to pay the journalist handsomely to investigate the situation and see whether he can bring any closure to the matter. Mikael accepts the assignment, and he ultimately ends up hiring an assistant named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who was hired to do a background check on him. Lisbeth’s outrageous physical appearance, complete with multiple face piercings, belies her razor-sharp mind and her uncanny skill with computers.
As Lisbeth and Mikael proceed with their investigation into Harriet’s disappearance, they soon realize that they have uncovered the existence of serial killer who has preyed on a number of young women throughout the years, and as they learn more about this monster, they find that their own lives may be in danger.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a fascinating film on a number of different levels. It’s an outstanding mystery, a strange love story, a horrifying thriller, and a superb tale about the epitome of investigative journalism. Anyone interested in journalism should love this movie because Mikael’s search for the truth about Harriet’s disappearance unfolds like a giant jigsaw puzzle. He painstakingly makes his way through countless photographs and stories about the family before he finally discovers something in one of the pictures that proves to be a key lead. And Lisbeth’s research is just as intriguing because she manages to uncover the thread connecting a number of female murder victims.
Now while we are on the subject of Lisbeth, we must point out that in creating her, Larsson has given us one of the most interesting heroines in literary history and subsequently a great movie character. She has no parents, and when her beloved guardian suffers a stroke, another one is assigned to her, but he is a sadistic sexual predator who subjects her to an unspeakable experience in his house. But Lisbeth is one tough young woman, and her revenge is swift, creative, vicious, and violent. And it will make you want to stand up and applaud.
Mara is simply brilliant in the role of Lisbeth, and I will be shocked if she doesn’t receive and Academy Award nomination for her incredible performance. In fact she already has earned a Golden Globe nomination as best actress for her work in the film. The role of Lisbeth is an unbelievably demanding one from both an emotional and physical standpoint. In the film’s production notes, Craig explained what he thinks makes Lisbeth such a great character and why moviegoers will admire her.
“I think what is interesting about her is that even though she is a victim of sexual violence, she never psychologically becomes a victim. Her strength and the way she can take a knock, get up, and carry on is something I think people really hook into.”
Also in the production notes, Mara spoke about the how difficult the sexual abuse scenes were and how she and Yorick van Wageningen, who plays her abusive guardian Nils Bjurman, made the scenes work.
“The scenes were intensely challenging, both physically and psychologically, but also key to understanding Lisbeth’s impetus to help Blomkvist ferret out a murderer of women. The scenes with Bjurman tell you the most about Lisbeth. The abuse drives her, and the rest of the story to follow, in so many ways. Those were the scenes I was always thinking about.
“I always knew those scenes would be hard, but they were even harder than I thought they would be. Yorick is like the sweetest guy ever, but I stayed away from him because I didn’t want to be thinking about how sweet he is. It was better for us not to talk too much, but to just go into the room and see how things unraveled.”
Craig also is outstanding in his part as the stubborn journalist who refuses to be deterred from his assignment even when his life is threatened. He brings a perfect blend of persistence and class to the role of Mikael, and the way he portrays the character is exactly the way I had him pictured in the novels. In the production notes, Craig explained what he admired about his character.
“I like his attitude, I like his politics, and I like the way he’s all mixed up but in interesting ways. He’s fighting the good fight, trying to uncover corruption and to be an influential journalist, if that’s still possible.”
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” gets an unequivocal 10. It is superbly acted, beautifully photographed, and brilliantly directed by two-time Academy Award nominee David Fincher (“The Social Network.) Be forewarned, however, that it is not for the faint of heart because some of the scenes are dare so graphic that they are quite disturbing. Nevertheless, it is one of the best mysteries I have seen for a long time, and I hope both Craig and Mara will agree to reprise their respective roles if the two other books in the trilogy make it to the big screen. I can picture no one else in those parts.