Nordic chills

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is coolly elegant, yet pretentious

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Pageant Theatre. Not rated.
Rated 3.0

Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist who has just been convicted on charges of libel, is asked by an elderly industrialist to spend the months before he begins a prison term investigating the unsolved mystery of his niece’s disappearance and presumed death some 40 years in the past. Meanwhile, a punked-up goth-girl named Salander is using her computer-hacking skills to investigate Blomkvist and the missing person/murder mystery as well.

Soon enough, the two of them become an odd-couple detective team, and more—but also less—in this long and somewhat coyly convoluted mystery tale. That both of them have their own problems with the law at the same time that they are looking into the transgressions of the well-to-do and other folk in positions of power is just one of the too-pat ironies circulating in a story in which nearly everybody has a skeleton rattling around in his or her closet.

Worse yet, the skeletons (and demons) and the closets (and torture chambers) end up looking a little too conveniently interchangeable, and the film’s big-issue pretensions devolve into knee-jerk sensationalism. Niels Arden Oplev’s film, based on the best-selling novel from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series (which I haven’t read, and probably won’t), has a high-toned art-house look and a cool sort of elegance to it, but only up to a point—after which the whole enterprise descends into some rather exploitative indulgences of several of its characters’ most brutal and gruesome impulses.

Michael Nykvist and Noomi Rapace both make strikingly eccentric impressions in the lead roles, and Rapace’s ferociously wordless intensity as the eponymous avenger/victim/anti-heroine seems ready-made for cult status. But Oplev’s film seems a half-hearted hodgepodge of genres and styles—part police procedural, part political thriller and exposé, with doses of revenge fantasy and psycho-killer porn thrown in for mostly puerile shock effect.

The noirish moral equivalencies of this movie might carry greater weight in a production less eager to immerse its audience in the cycles of sadistic abuse that afflict nearly all of its characters in one way or another. Oplev brings a cool detachment to the central plot-thread—Blomqvist and Salander tracking lethal ghosts of fascism in contemporary Sweden—but a much more heated and manipulative approach takes over in three protracted and very graphic torture sequences, only one of which is initiated by the main villain of the piece.

This Swedish import is in release in the U.S. without any MPAA rating. It will likely get an “R” when its Hollywood remake, which is apparently already in the works, comes out. But I’m not sure that any rating can be sufficient to this film’s unhinged mixture of routine entertainment and hyperventilating nastiness.