Monday, July 5, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is classically haunting

The best murder mysteries present their place as a character itself, so that the tropes of mystery play out against some new place for us to enjoy. It might be a vast mansion or a train or a university campus. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the place that dominates the mystery is the numbingly cold village of Hedestad, Sweden.
I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Swedish film, on the same day that I finished reading Stieg Larsson's novel of the same name. Sometimes that happens-- I finished the book this morning after reading through the whole thing in two sittings, after learning when I was halfway through it that, yes, there was a movie, and yes, it was playing in town.
This is masterful formula material. Larsson provides us first with our heroes-- Blomkvist, a noble, late-40s journalist recently convicted of libel, and Lisbeth Salander, a wounded, angry 24-year-old computer genius whose facial piercings and tattoos speak of defiant bravery against a neverending stream of vicitimizations. Some of the things that happen to Lisbeth early in the book are hard to watch, but it's thrilling to see her get her revenge. And that's just the character stuff, Larsson contrasting the white-collar nightmares of Blomkvist with the bloody and bruising street-level dangers of Salander. But as different as they are, the movie takes its time observing both of these people and showing their similarities: Salander and Blomkvist are both careful with good reason, because they tend to fail spectacularly when they let down their guard.

The movie (and the book) bring the two together to investigate the forty-year-old disappearance of a beautiful teenage girl, the bright light in an aristocratic and insular old family. As might be expected, the family holds secrets, and though the patriarch of the family invites Blomkvist to solve the mystery, the rest of the family seems to quake with fear that he may learn what really happened all those years ago.

So what kind of movie is this? Do you like movies where the heroes breathlessly dig through old microfiche and blow up photographs and hurry to intercept lost witnesses? Because this is that kind of movie-- a perfect Agatha Christie thriller, except with much nastier crimes at the center. I was delighted by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and heartily recommend it.

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