With his trilogy of thrillers selling upwards of 15 million copies in North America alone, it was inevitable that Hollywood would be sniffing around Stieg Larsson's Scandinavian suspense series. The much-hyped first instalment, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, arrives in cinemas just before Christmas, with the much-respected David Fincher (7, The Social Network) at the helm, and current 007 Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in the lead roles, set to the music of Trent "Nine Inch Nails" Reznor. It promises much, and we'll see if it delivers.
Great suspense however, like charity, begins at home - and so the Swedes have already laid down the cinematic template for the Larrson stories, and I have to tell you, Fincher & Co. definitely have their work cut out for them, because "Men Who Hate Women" (the author's initial title) has set the bar pretty high.
The first challenge is condensing Larsson's 600 + page epic of right-wing extremism, financial highjinks and kinky sex murders into a watchable form that still carries the spirit and heft of the story. On that front, screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg (the first in an onoging list of near unpronounceable names) succeed quite handsomely, and the film's 160 minute duration, while not a breeze, is certainly no chore.
Some credit for that also goes to director Niels Arden Opley, who weaves the story's multiple timelines (the present, them mid-60s, the WWII years and more) into a cohesive and compelling hole. The mid-60s sequences, in particular, come off like some "Nordic Vogue" or vintage LIFE magazine spread. the film's very spare score - a marked contrast to the Hollywood blockbuster style of telegraphing every moment with sound, makes the high points seem even - well....higher.
Then, of course, there are the players, probably well known in Sweden prior to the release of these films, their stocks have surely gone up since - but none more so than Noomi Rapace. Playing the title character, computer hacker and social misfit Lisbeth Salander (you'll have to watch to see where nad how the Dragon tattoo comes in ), she's a "human geothermal" - deathly cold on the surface, with her coal-black eyes, square shoulders and punk aesthetic, and volcanic underneath, as other scenes will show. As the veteran journalist thrown together with her as they track the murder-myster-turned-serial-murder-mystery, Michael Nyquist is almost her equal.
As far as the movie itself goes, if you have an English-dubbed, or English subtitled version, then it may not be necessary to read the book first (although I still recommend it), when your choice of download is Swedish with Dutch subtitling, then a good knowledge of the source material is essential.
Either way, "Dragon Tattoo" is a smart, well-controlled but compelling thriller adaptation. The coming Hollywood adaptation is billed as "the feel-bad movie of the season". As grisly as the subject matter is, watching this version ought to leave you feeling good.