The Swedish-language thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo inevitably simplifies some of the plot knots in Stieg Larsson’s 2005 best-seller, a satisfyingly sordid tale of corruption, murder, and family secrets. But there’s still enough sexual gruesomeness to justify the alternate title by which international audiences know the film: Men Who Hate Women. Indeed, the girl of the title attracts an outsize portion of that hate, perhaps because she looks so unlike all other women: Professional hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is pierced, inked, punked out, and as skinny as a street kid.
I don’t know why Lisbeth is the magnet for so much male rage. Nor why Larsson and director Niels Arden Oplev linger on the sight of Lisbeth being hideously raped — and later punishing her tormentor with even more sadistic acts of violence. At least weather-beaten investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) treats Lisbeth nicely. Together they work to expose the evil in one rich, rotten family. (The Nazi skeletons in their closet reflect a particular interest of the author, who, until his death in 2004 at age 50, crusaded against right-wing extremism in Sweden.)
The film makes excellent use of the cold Scandinavian landscape to emphasize the story’s gloomy loneliness. And Rapace and ? Nyqvist have compelling chemistry. The two stars have shot the next two movies in Larsson’s trilogy — and I look forward to them with a combination of squeamish fear of what tortures I’ll see and queasy excitement about how Lisbeth Salander will handle the next skeevy guy. B