Essentially a locked-room mystery with lashings of gore and sexual brutality, Stieg Larsson's novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo disguised the simplicity of its narrative by embedding it within an almost Balzacian depiction of Swedish society, warts and all (but mainly warts). Niels Arden Oplev's adaptation relies more on the mystery, but has two complex, compelling leads driving its story. Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced investigative journalist, is asked by industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the disappearance of his niece from a family reunion forty years ago. A finite number of suspects emerge, mostly members of Vanger's hugely dysfunctional dynasty: aged Swedish Nazis, venal old aunts, creepy brothers and cousins. Blomqvist teams up with Lisbeth Salander, who is the true star of Larsson's books, a state-raised, quasi-autistic computer hacker with a horrifying past and an alarmingly black-and-white sense of morality. Played by Noomi Rapace -- the real discovery here -- Salander is a walking time bomb of injuries and resentments. Together they disinter the Vanger family's grotesque secrets, while somebody -- a still-active serial sex-murderer, perhaps? -- uses increasingly violent methods to try to stop them. An elegant contraction of the novel, discarding Blomqvist's sexual bravado and thus saving Larsson from his own worst tendencies, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may be a shallower experience than the book, but it has a headlong velocity all its own. Catch it before the inevitable U.S. remake.
April 30-May 6, 2010