Three of the most popular books of 2008-2010 were Stieg Larssen’s Millennium Trilogy. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book and there is already one great movie of it in the original Swedish. (Here is my review of that one.) But now we have the David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) prettied-up American version. I could just about recycle my first review for the new one, but there are a few differences. It is in English. Daniel Craig is hotter than Michael Nyqvist. And Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth is a great deal less insular and a lot more one-dimensional than Noomi Rapace’s.

(Interestingly, the Swedish title is Män som hatar kvinnor (Men who Hate Women) – a decidedly more apt description. Warning: There are some extremely raw scenes of sexual violence in the film.) In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo we are introduced to the two main characters of the series – Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Mikael is a journalist who we meet just as he is being found guilty of libel for a story he wrote in the magazine Millennium. Meanwhile, at a classy investigative agency, an older gentleman is asking for background info on him. The Blomkvist dossier is delivered to him by a strange but clearly very bright, and very pierced girl, Lisbeth. Soon Mikael is contacted by Henrik Vanger, a retired industrialist and former head of the Vanger Group. He offers Mikael an intriguing job as an investigative journalist. 40 years earlier Vanger’s 16 year old niece, Harriet, the apple of his eye, disappeared. Every year on his birthday, he receives a reminder that he believes is from her killer. Since he is an old man, he wants to find the murderer before he dies.

Mikael resigns from Millennium and moves up to the remote island where all the Vangers live. Ensconced in a cold little cabin next to the big house, he is given all of the evidence that has been collected over these four decades. Reading through the files, he begins to understand why Vanger included his entire family in the list of suspects. They take dysfunctional to a whole new level; several of them are Nazis, most have stopped speaking to one another and there are too many secrets to name. And they are none too happy about Mikael mucking about in their strange familial past. But as he digs into the evidence, he comes to several dead ends. Then one very important clue is solved by his daughter in passing. This big break spurs him to ask his employers for some investigative help and they tell him about Lisbeth, who signs on once he tells her he needs her to help him catch “a killer of women,” soon joining him in the cottage.

Lisbeth is a brilliant computer hacker, and also one damaged girl. Not that we know what it is about, but she has to report to a state appointed guardian on a regular basis and since her old guardian has just had a stroke, she is set up with a new one who turns out to be a violent, sadistic misogynist. But the tiny wisp of a Lisbeth turns the tables on him in what is the quintessential rape victim’s revenge fantasy.

Together Mikael and Lisbeth make one of the stranger detective couplings out there. She is a 23-year-old Goth/Punk techie genius, and he is a 40-something, pretty normal, divorced journalist. But they click and as screwed up as she may be, he lets her be, even entering into a somewhat strange sexual relationship at her instigation. As the story evolves, clues lead them to multiple gruesome murders of women all over Sweden, and finally back to the island where it all comes together, and the mystery of the missing girl is solved. There is also a thread with Lisbeth taking down the man who sued Mikael for libel. And at the end a few strings are left untied, leaving openings for the next in the series.

Daniel Craig aside, this Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cannot compete with the Swedish film. This Lisbeth is not as detached or layered, but that is probably a nod to American sensibilities. It is also more polished and I liked the grittiness of the original, but since American audiences can’t seem to appreciate films in foreign languages (unless they are spoken by aliens or Tolkien characters), this will be the one that will be seen by a much bigger audience. It is beautifully shot, has a stellar cast, and will no doubt please many of the readers of the books. I can see it being a decent date film, and the chicks who made it a best-seller will most likely appreciate this semi-faithful adaptation. I can’t help comparing the two, but if you’re subtitle impaired, you’ll probably like this English language version. However, I’d still recommend the Swedish as the better of the two.

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