ROONEY MARA AS LISBETH SALANDER
Despite Hollywood's penchant for remaking old movies, the remakes are seldom as good as the originals and often worse. Conspicuous exceptions that I especially like include The Magnificent Seven (1960), a remake of Akira Kurosawa's classic samurai epic Seven Samurai, and King Kong (2005), Peter Jackson's reverential remake of the original.
To which can now be added the 2011 American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which hews to Swedish writer Stieg Larsson's posthumous runaway international bestseller -- the first book in the so-called Millennium Trilogy -- but improves on the 2009 Swedish film in almost every way.
Over the years, I've read my way through the great murder mystery writers -- Dashielle Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ellery Queen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and P.D. James, to name but a few -- and thought I had pretty much tapped out the genre.
That was until I picked up the English translation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Since then I have been cherry picking my way through Scandinavian murder mysteries -- a genre sometimes referred to as Arctic Noir. They have been a revelation, while the work of Danish writer Peter Høeg is especially good.
I am prepared to make and defend the argument that the best of these Scandinavian mysteries equal or rival the mystery classics of yore, which is an unusual claim considering that Sweden, Norway and Denmark collectively are just about the most murder-free societies on the planet and seem unlikely to spawn a host of great murder mystery writers. But part of the power of these novels are their deceivingly tranquil settings, which make it all the more shocking when a crime occurs, as well as the powerful psychological dramas woven through them.
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Both film versions of Dragon Tattoo hew to the book with a conspicuous exception that I'll get to. They open with investigative reporter Mikael "Kalle" Blomkvist losing a libel case involving allegations he published about a billionaire financier. Lisbeth Salander, a pale and skinny young woman with red hair, which she dyes black, and a dragon tattoo, among others, is a world-class computer hacker whom is contracted to investigate Blomkvist by a lawyer for Hendrik Vanger, an 82-year-old retired industrialist.
Vanger subsequently hires Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece, Harriet, who vanished from the remote northern Swedish island where he lives on Childen's Day in 1966. Vanger believes that Harriet was murdered by a family member, several of whom are or were Nazi sympathizers.