At a daring 152 minutes, this Swedish gothic-noir thriller is longer than all but two of Ingmar Bergman’s films. It breezes every second, expertly paced and slickly constructed, building purpose and velocity with fierce intent. What we have here is a movie that’s confident enough to take its time – it’s more than an hour before our two protagonists meet up. By then, we’ve already been hooked by a gripping procedural spiked with scenes of terrible sexual brutality.
The plot is, well, killer: bisexual goth-punk computer hacker Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) and disgraced hotshot journalist Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) join forces to solve the mystery of a girl who disappeared more than 40 years ago. Adapting from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy of novels, director Niels Arden Oplev sets up the questions as efficiently as he pays them off. What happened to Harriet Vanger? And what horrors lurk in Lisbeth’s own past?
Clues, details, secrets and revelations stack up. Suspense tightens. Characters deepen. It’s all hugely satisfying, swaddled in a dark atmosphere of loneliness and threat by cinematographer Eric Kress’ precision lensing of the harsh Scandinavian landscape.
With shocking violence and retribution, Oplev’s film plays a dangerous game. No wonder the original title of the novel and the film – Men Who Hate Women – never made it out of Sweden. This uneasy tussle between exploitation and empowerment threatens to undermine the whole film. But even if the story doesn’t always provide the wallop you’re waiting for, Tattoo always has the twin engines of its superb performances, with Nyqvist and Rapace etching their lines more deeply than they lay in the script.
In a star-making turn, Rapace gives Lisbeth a powerful dignity clear of dark angel archetypes. Comic-book male fantasy, feminist heroine and multi-dimensional character, Lisbeth is the most fascinating in a series of twists the movie pulls on the genre template. Happily, she’s back in two more sequels (there’s a sneak peek of the first, The Girl Who Played With Fire, included on the disc). Extras were unavailable at press time, but we can tell you there’s no director’s commentary – which, for a film as complex, troubling and re-watchable as this, is a first-degree crime.