- Released in Sweden on 25/02/09
- Released in Malta by KRS on 12/05/10
In a nutshell
Back in 2004, Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson delivered a trilogy of books to his publisher, and died shortly afterwards. They have since become a bestselling sensation, and a Hollywood version of the first book is in the pipeline. The Swedes, however, rightly got there first, and may prove a tough act to top.
The story opens in Stockholm with high-profile journalist Mikael Blomkvist losing a legal battle against one of the businessmen he tried to uncover, and getting sentenced to a short spell in prison. Before he is due to serve time, he receives a mysterious invite from Henrik Vanger, a semi-retired business tycoon who lives on the small island of Hedeby, up north.
Vanger is a broken man since the mysterious loss of his favourite niece, who vanished without a trace during a family gathering on the island over forty years ago. Convinced that one of his jealous family members murdered her, Vanger has been unable to find any conclusive evidence despite years and years of work with the police and obsessive poring over the details of the case. He is ready to pay handsomely for Blomkvist to give the paperwork a fresh look.
The unlikely assistant
Back in Stockholm, we meet Lisbeth Salander, a social misfit with a shady past. She works with a security firm, and has an uncanny ability to access information and profile people - something which makes her a huge asset to the company, despite doubts about the legality of her means. She was indirectly hired by Vanger to present a profile on Blomkvist so that they could assess his suitability. She then gets embroiled in a nasty power struggle with her deviant legal guardian, and we swiftly realise how this tough-as-nails girl means business.
The plot thickens
Needless to say, Blomkvist manages to uncover a few leads in the discarded case, and a tangled Vanger family tree starts to unfurl before us, drawing us and him into their sordid history. But the case only starts to truly crackle when Blomkvist finds out about Lisbeth and her hacking skills, and asks her to join the case. What ensues is a thrilling mix of good old-fashioned investigative drama, with a grisly side-portion of debauchery and psychopathology.
The story is a sprawling and rich family saga, which makes for a thick novel with new characters and twists every few pages. So presenting it all in a two-and-a-half hour film is no minor achievement. But just as Blomkvist maps out the family tree on his cabin wall, we the audience are skilfully shown the faces that matter without it getting too detailed or confusing. The sub-plots are given their due importance, and most importantly, the two main characters are allowed enough time to develop and interact, making them an unlikely duo we can cheer for and worry about.
Lots of substance, slightly less shine
The unsolved mystery at the heart of the story is a fine one worthy of any Agatha Christie classic (the island setting providing ample Ten Little Indians-type suspects), and the solving of the case is enjoyable and often unpredictable. The mixing in of the religious, the perverted and the downright macabre is reminiscent of certain aspects of other gems such as The Silence of the Lambs and Angels and Demons. Whilst making full use of the stunning Swedish scenery, the film occasionally reveals its minor-key roots, and the supporting cast are not always of the calibre of the main twosome. This isn't helped at all by the poor voiceover work provided for this unfortunately dubbed version. Subtitles may be slightly tedious to read, but at least we would get to hear the actors' voices and voice acting, as opposed to a handful of persons who seem to be sitting around a kitchen table with a microphone and a script.
In the end
If you haven't met Lisbeth Salander yet, it's about time you did. She's a wonderfully fresh anti-hero, and her damaged past makes her a potent mix of unpredictability and determination. With the trilogy of books still atop numerous bestseller lists, and with film versions of all three a forgone conclusion, we can expect her to be around for a while. Which is a good thing.