The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 146 mins, rated MA15, opens in cinemas 25 March 2010.


(This is my review as published in the March 2010 issue of The New South Wales Law Society Journal)

Ah, Sweden! Land of enlightened social policies, safe cars, cheap modern furniture, and light, likeable pop music. Oh, and fascists and serial killers.

The late Steig Larsson (1954-2004) was an investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of Expo magazine, published in Sweden by the Expo Foundation. This organisation describes itself on its website <> as a non-profit group studying and mapping anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and racist tendencies in society.

Before Larsson died, he wrote 3 long novels dealing, in fictional form, with some of the themes he had devoted his career to investigating. He did not live to see the novels published: he died suddenly after delivering the manuscript to his Swedish publisher. The novels became known as the Millennium Trilogy, named for the fictional magazine in the stories. The trilogy is a publishing phenomenon: more than 21 million copies sold worldwide so far.

The first novel of the trilogy was called, in Swedish, Men Who Hate Women, but the English title of the book – and now the film – is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Swedish title probably gives the reader and viewer a better idea of what to expect. This is a tough movie about crime, murder, torture and the dark side of Swedish society. It’s also an intelligent and exciting whodunit with a memorable heroine (the girl with the dragon tattoo) and more than enough twists and turns to keep amateur sleuths on their toes. In feel, the film it most resembles is David Fincher’s Se7en (1995).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo begins with the verdict in a criminal libel trial. Our hero, Mikael Blomkvist – clearly Steig Larsson’s alter ego – has been found guilty, and sentenced to serve 3 months in gaol, and he must pay a hefty fine. His crime was writing and publishing articles that accused a high-flying financier, Hans-Eric Wennerstrom of various crimes, including gun-running.

Interestingly, Blomkvist does not have to go to gaol right away – he is given a short period of respite, even though he has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision. Blomkvist returns to work, but his colleagues ask him to take leave of absence from Millennium magazine “until this blows over”. This leaves him conveniently free for a few months to investigate another mystery: the disappearance in 1966 of 16-year-old Harriet Vanger, the niece of wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger.

Next we meet Lisbeth Salander, a dynamic young woman with a shadowy past and a lot of personal problems. She will form one half of one of the oddest couples in detective history: the morose, middle-aged journalist Blomkvist and the young, unpredictable computer hacker Lisbeth.

That introduction just scratches the surface of the fascinating, teeming detail in this film. Clearly Mr Larsson was not short of ideas.

Stylishly directed by Niels Arden Oplev, a Dane best known for creating and directing the popular TV series Unit One and The Eagle (each shown in the last few years on SBS TV), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo covers some very dark and grisly territory, and probes controversial aspects of Swedish social history. So if you can’t stand the sight of blood, if you don’t want to see torture on film, if you are sensitive to sex scenes, or the depiction of home tattooing, this is not the movie for you.

But if you have read the novel (it is reasonably faithful to the first book and includes some aspects of the rest of the trilogy, but it leaves out mountains of detail), or if you have the stomach for a tough, gritty crime thriller, beautifully shot and excellently acted – especially by Noomi Rapace, a self-taught actress working mainly in Europe – then I recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You may never think of Sweden the same way again.