The original Swedish title of this intelligently flashy mystery film, Man Som Hatar Kvinnor, translates literally to Men Who Hate Women, and it is unfortunately quite apt. The horrors that the male villains perpetrate on their female victims are depicted with unforgiving vividness. These men hate women indeed.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo might have been just another competently slick European thriller were it not for the presence of Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, the titular tattooed girl. Lisbeth is not your typical protagonist, as the feminist film blog Act Your Age notes:
Utilizing her technological prowess (a rare quality for female characters!), and at times resorting to revenge and physical violence, Lisbeth [....] aims to correct the wrongs inflicted on women by men in power.
With Lisbeth, Rapace expertly crafts a brooding, burningly intelligent performance that elevates the film to a more memorable place than it might otherwise have occupied. Though small of frame, she nonetheless fills the screen with a character that will remain crushingly silent for long periods of time until finally exploding into righteous, ferocious rage in response the afore mentioned misogynistic violence.
Providing a foil and unlikely partner for Lisbeth is investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, who has been hired by a wealthy old business man to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of his teenage niece 40 years prior.
Once this pair teams up, the film unfolds at a breathless yet meticulous pace as Lisbeth and Mikael piece together a string of decades-old murder cases that are somehow tied to the old man's vanished niece. The investigation is rather standard mystery fare, complete with panning close-ups of grisly crime scene photos and not a few research montages. Two things that save the film from feeling too ordinary are the thrill of the chase, and the always fascinating Rapace.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first in a trilogy, based on the books by Stieg Larsson, and it very much feels like it, the way characters are established and the partnership between Lisbeth and Mikael is set up. You will be left with a desire to immediately see the second installment in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire, which has fortunately just opened in US theaters.