Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson
Oscar Wins: Best Film Editing (Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter)
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Rooney Mara), Best Cinematography (Jeff Cronenweth), Best Sound Editing (Ren Klyce), Best Sound Mixing (David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson)
SUMMARY: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a Swedish journalist who has just been convicted of libel against business tycoon Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Blomkvist resigns from the magazine he co-owns with sometime lover Erika Berger, and quickly receives a job offer from Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Vanger’s family once ran a huge business conglomerate, and even though it has downsized, the family is still wealthy: most family members live on a private island. Forty years earlier, Henrik’s grandniece Harriet disappeared, and is widely believed to have been murdered, though a body was never found. The police were never able to solve the crime, and Vanger now wants Blomkvist, renowned for his investigative skills, to look into the crime. Unbeknownst to Blomkvist, Vanger conducted an extensive background check on him, using the services of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Salander is considered mentally incompetent, and is thus placed with a legal guardian (even though she’s 23). She is extremely gifted with computers, and earns a living by investigating/hacking. After Vanger promises exorbitant pay — and proof that he ws right about Wennerstrom — Blomkvist agrees to investigate, and moves into a small cottage on the Vanger island. He begins by talking to various family members, several of whom are or were Nazis, and by visiting with the detective who conducted the original investigation. In the files presented by Vanger, Blomkvist discovers Harriet’s notebook with a list of names and numbers; the meaning of these has never been deciphered. Meanwhile, Salander has been given a new guardian after her previous one suffers a stroke. The new one, Nils Bjurman, will not allow Salander access to her own money unless she performs various sexual favors for him. He soon violently rapes her, but does not realize that she has a hidden camera in her bag. A few days later, Salander returns and gets her revenge on Bjurman: she forces him to undergo the same things he did to her, then tattoos the words “I am a racist pig” on his chest and stomach. She then forces him to give her full control of her money, while also writing terrific progress reports for the state. Back on the island, Vanger has not made much progress when his teenage daughter visits. To his surprise, she recognizes something: the numbers in Harriet’s journal refer to passages in the Bible. Vanger decides he needs help, and on the recommendation of Vanger’s lawyer, hires Salander. Very quicky, Salander uses the notebook to discover a link between numerous murders of young women, all occurring between 1947 and 1967. Suspiciously, many of the women have Jewish names; Blomkvist points out that several Vangers were Nazis, meaning they were also anti-Semitic. As they continue to work together, Blomkvist and Salander begin a relationship. They dig deeper and deeper into the Vanger family history, even after Henrik has a heart attack and is hospitalized. Martin (Stellan Skarsgard), Henrik’s grandnephew and Harriet’s brother, insists that Blomkvist continue his investigation, and allows him full access to the Vanger company records.
Salander is sent to comb through the company records, while Blomkvist questions Harald, Henrik’s brother (who is an admitted Nazi). After following a trail of evidence and photographs, Blomkvist has discovered that Harald took photographs of several key family moments, and wants to examine them. After Harald identifies one young man as Martin, Blomkvist realizes that the same man is in an earlier photograph, the last one ever taken of Harriet. Aside from proving that Martin lied about his whereabouts that day, Blomkvist deduces that the sight of her brother spooked Harriet. At the company archives, Salander begins to piece together evidence that points to Martin’s father Gottfried (another Nazi) as the murderer — except that he died the year before Harriet was killed, and before the spree stopped. After more examination, Salander realizes that Martin continued his father’s serial killing. Blomkvist goes to Martin’s house to confront him, and when the man is not home, sneaks in; he is later caught by Martin, who drops his friendly pretense and takes Blomkvist down to a torture chamber. While he has Blomkvist incapacitated, Martin confesses to the murders and admits to continuing his father’s work, but when Blomkvist mentions Harriet, Martin demands to know what happened to her. Just in time, Salander enters the room and hits Martin with a golf club, then frees Blomkvist. Martin takes off, and Salander pursues him on her motorcycle; she forces him off the road, and prepares to shoot him, only to have the car explode. Blomkvist recovers from the ordeal, and Salander reveals that she was declared mentally incompetent after attempting to kill her father at age 12. Blomkvist is convinced that Martin did not kill Harriet, so the two continue to investigate. They conclude that the only person who might know what happened to Harriet is her cousin Anita (Joely Richardson), who has been estranged from the family since the murder. They try to provoke Anita into contacting Harriet; when this fails, Blomkvist realizes that it is because Anita actually is Harriet. He confronts her with this, and Harriet tells her that as a child she was sexually abused by her father; when he was drunk one night she killed him, but was seen by her brother Martin. Martin then began sexually assaulting her, and when she learned of the murders and realized her brother would never stop attacking her, she and her cousin Anita arranged to get away. Anita got married and lived under her married name, while Harriet used Anita’s maiden name as her new identity. Now that Martin is dead, Harriet finally returns to the island and reunites with Henrik. Blomkvist is given the information on Wennerstrom, but finds that it is not enough to do any serious damage. Salander then hacks into Wennerstrom’s computer and finds the incriminating evidence, which Blomkvist then publishes. Salander then disguises herself and transfers a huge amount of money out of Wennerstrom’s accounts in Switzerland into various other ones (her own) before returning to Sweden. She finds that she is in love with Blomkvist, but while attempting to deliver a Christmas present she sees him with his arm around Erika Berger. Salander then throws the present in the trash and drives away.
MY TAKE: I think I started to read this book, but found it a little confusing and slow, and stopped. I’m now wishing that I kept reading, because this movie was awesome. The mystery is terrific, especially since Henrik announces at the beginning that the culprit has to be somebody in the family. The family itself is nutty, with half of them not talking to the other half, and a good many proud Nazis among them. As you may know, my all-time favorite movie is The Sound of Music, and I have to admit, when Christopher Plummer stood in front of that big house on the island, it was very reminiscent. I wanted him to break out the captain’s whistle. The mystery itself is baffling, but Salander and Blomkvist make enough progress that it stays really tense and interesting — and being that their investigation involves lots of photos and interviews, you can actually understand all the clues they uncover. It’s pretty surprising to find that Martin is a serial killer, because he’s been really friendly all along. He’s also the head of the Vanger family corporation, and there’s no indication that he’s a Nazi — which is probably why the Jewish theme among the murder victims declined. His father, who started the killing, looked for Jewish girls because he was anti-Semitic, but Martin didn’t care. Then you get another shock: Martin is a killer, but he didn’t kill Harriet. More investigation follows, and you get surprise number three: Harriet’s alive, and you’ve already seen her. I kind of ruined this one for myself, because when I first saw Anita, I thought it was Joely Richardson playing her. I wanted to confirm this, so I looked on Wikipedia — and saw Joely’s name next to the role of Harriet Vanger. I then realized that Harriet was alive, but I wasn’t sure what had happened during the in-between, so that was good. There was still some mystery for me. I didn’t like the ending, because I’m a sap and like everything to end happily. Blomkvist is a tool. Although it demonstrates how borderline nuts she is, I could have lived without the rape sequence between Salander and her new guardian. Compared to some of the other movies I’ve seen recently it was pretty tame, but it really didn’t add to the story, other than to show that you don’t want to mess with Lisbeth Salander. Then again, she’s been convicted of assault several times and has been declared mentally incompetent by the state, so it’s kind of implied. New guardian should have seen that coming.
Fun fact: Rooney Mara’s real name is Patricia Rooney Mara. The latter two names are the last names of her parents. Football fans might recognize them: the Rooney family, her mother’s side, founded and runs the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Mara family, her father’s side, founded and runs the New York Giants.
RATING: Really good.