Swedish author Stieg Larsson's mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a huge, best-selling success in America because it hit all the popular American buttons: sadistic killers, a fallen hero with a heart of gold, and lots of sex and violence. And so the cinematic adaptation of Tattoo, while very Swedish in pedigree (the cold, crisp location shots; the subtle performances; the languid pacing of some establishing scenes), is very American in many ways. It's got a big dumb soundtrack that telegraphs every emotion to the audience with a bullhorn's intensity, it sports a CSI-style fetishization of gore and suffering that takes great glee in its own nastiness, and it has an unfortunate compulsion to explain everything, treating the audience like dumb children.
Its doofy Americanness is off-putting, but there are plenty of reasons to like Tattoo, too: The plot is intricate and involving (the audience can guess the killer from the very beginning, but the storytelling is compelling enough to maintain interest almost all the way through), the melodrama is appropriately satisfying, and the direction is competent and thoughtful. But the best part of Tattoo, the real reason to watch it, is Noomi Rapace's turn as Lisbeth Salander, a goth computer hacker who gets involved in the case against her own better judgment. Salander is a juicy character—damaged but strong, sexual and enigmatic—and Rapace's deft portrayal is a joy to watch. In the early swaths of the film where she doesn't appear, you miss her and things lag until she appears again.
Salander deserves a better plot. Tattoo has one of those stereotypical mystery-novel endings—things crash to a spectacularly exciting conclusion and then just keep... on... going... in a painfully plodding march of exposition. Each character (including, unfortunately, Salander) gets a pat resolution, and the film drags out a whole other reel after the end of the mystery. A few scenes are gory enough that moviegoers expecting a quaint Swedish mystery romp should be warned in person when the theater employee hands them the ticket (and survivors of rape are advised to think twice before watching Tattoo; one scene could inspire serious trauma). Things move quickly, but the stupidity of the film increases incrementally with each minute of the running time. The American movie trappings are a shame; a nice, languid, smart Swedish version would have been a real beauty to behold. And besides, an American remake is already in the works and scheduled for 2012 release.