Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published Millennium trilogy of crime thrillers has won millions of fans around the world – all of them waiting to pounce on any missteps made by the makers of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: the screen adaptation of the first instalment.
Fortunately, director Niels Arden Oplev has got things right – starting with the casting of the series’ hero and heroine: idealistic campaigning journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played with battered integrity by Michael Nyqvist, and punk-Goth computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous tattooed girl – an astonishing incarnation by Noomi Rapace of a character who has become an instant 21st-century icon.
Oplev and his writers also prove sure-footed with the plotting, which is a strikingly faithful, adroitly streamlined version of the book. Over 500 pages long, Larsson’s story is a locked-room mystery thriller set on an island – as is Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, coincidentally released in the UK on the same day as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Hedeby Island is home to the wealthy Vanger family, a warring clan of industrialists with Nazi skeletons in the closet. Smarting from a libel defeat and in disgrace, Blomkvist comes here at the behest of the head of the Vanger family, elderly recluse Henrik Vanger, who wants Blomkvist to investigate the mysterious disappearance 40 years earlier of his great-niece.
Blomkvist’s probing into the case leads to him into an unlikely partnership with the remarkable Lisbeth, a spiky, damaged, semi-autistic computer genius with multiple piercings and a photographic memory. Together, they sift through seemingly baffling clues and unearth a series of appalling crimes against women.
Be warned: the scenes of sexual violence are extremely distressing. The original Swedish title of book and film is Män som hatar kvinnor: Men Who Hate Women, and Oplev pulls few punches in showing what Larsson describes. It’s probably his only major faux pas: what is implicit on the page becomes disturbingly explicit on screen.
If you wanted to, you could find other points to cavil. Feminist avenging angel Lisbeth bears marks of a male author’s fantasy, as does, in a different but complementary way, the heroic Blomkvist. You’re unlikely to care too much, however, when their dogged investigation gets you in its grip.
On general release from 12th March.