THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is the first book in Steig Larsson's Millennium trilogy, and a bestseller in Europe and the US. The new film adaptation, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, centers on the unlikely relationship between a journalist and a young hacker who team up to investigate a long-unsolved mystery—and the pathological misogyny that is apparently endemic to Swedish culture.
Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) is a respected journalist who, after trying and failing to take down a corrupt businessman, has been wrongly convicted of libel. Mikael's controversial trial brings him to the attention of Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), an elderly patriarch obsessed with the mysterious disappearance of his niece some 40 years before. The aging Henrik believes his niece was murdered by one of his creepy relatives—their family photo looks like the cover shot from a VC Andrews novel—and wants, before he dies, to see her killer brought to justice. After hiring a young woman, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), to run a background check on Mikael, Henrik asks for his help.
Computer-whiz Lisbeth is a throwback to the hacker aesthetic of the mid-'90s, all greasy dyed black hair and facial piercings, with a distant affect and defensive posture that signal "damaged." She's tough, though—tough enough to withstand a brutal rape at the hands of her social worker, and to exact an equally brutal revenge. She takes an interest in Mikael when she's hired to do his background check, and begins working with him to investigate the girl's disappearance—the closer they get to answers, the bigger the case becomes, quickly encompassing not just Henrik's niece but a string of unsolved and gruesome murders.
My problem with Girl—and what will almost certainly be the problem of many people who see this movie—is that while there's clearly intended to be some thematic continuity between the sexual assault that Lisbeth experiences and the murders that she and Mikael are investigating, no attempt is made to connect these violent episodes into a coherent statement about the sources of that violence. (If this seems like too much to ask, bear in mind that the movie is 152 minutes long.) No insights emerge, other than that women get raped and murdered a lot. It's a shame, too—Girl is beautifully shot, and Mikael and Lisbeth are odd, sympathetic characters. I just wish their investigation didn't involve quite so many pictures of naked, mutilated dead women—but then again, the slated American remake will no doubt make this version look like a model of restraint.