The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a Swedish punk deus ex machina.
Pierced all over, with jet-black hair and coal-black eyes, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is the sort of rebel any reporter would relish in his or her corner.
The movie named for her is a sort of Swedish Silence of the Lambs. It focuses on a disgraced magazine reporter (Michael Nyqvist) about to go to prison for libel. He's hired by an aged industrialist to find out who made his favorite niece disappear 40 years before. The old man figures it was his own family, which has Nazis among its ruthless, greedy ranks.
Before contacting the reporter, the industrialist hired a security firm to check him out. And that work — done by the complicated, brutalized, 24-year-old super-hacker Lisbeth — intrigues her to the point that she cyberstalks the reporter, offering him hacked tips just when he needs them.
Why? She doesn't tell him.
As the reporter and his researcher dig deeper into this wealthy family's past, the film takes on snippets of Blow Up (photo analysis), a dozen Grisham thrillers (meticulous poring over newspaper records) and Silence of the Lambs. Who else disappeared 40 or more years ago? It plunges into the uglier corners of Sweden's recent history. Not every Swede was neutral during Nazi Germany's glory days.
That plot isn't hard to decipher and stay ahead of. But our fascination, like the reporter's, is with Lisbeth. Her background is filled in as her actions tell her story. She might be a victim, but it's only a temporary state — as long as she keeps her wits and can figure out a way to turn the tables on her tormentors.
A viewing tip: When things get brutally ugly for her, free your mind to ponder what she might do to even the score.
Niels Arden Oplev's film of Stieg Larsson's international best-selling novel (half of a planned two-film adaptation) is a chilling detective tale, a horrific sexual-abuse drama and an overlong, emotional, tie-up-every-loose-end melodrama that is sure to be a half-hour shorter when Hollywood remakes it without the Swedish dialog and probably without the cool Swedish edge.