The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R) (152 min.) — The title character of Niels Arden Oplev's film is a bisexual cyber-punk computer hacker with a permanent chip on her shoulder, right above that fearsome body art. Her name is Lisbeth Salander, played to spiky perfection by Swedish spitfire Noomi Rapace, in a movie already planned for an American remake, and likely to lose the original's considerable punch.
Working from the first book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, Oplev drags viewers through potently lurid situations that won't cause U.S. studios to see dollar signs, so they'll sanitize it for profit protection. The book's title (and the film's overseas) is Men Who Hate Women, and that's exactly what we have here. Lisbeth hates them right back, as her rapist learns the hard way; part of the parallel character developments of the film's first hour.
The other main character of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a crusading journalist framed for fraud and convicted, with a six-month delay before his prison sentence. Mikael is approached by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate a 40-year-old mystery, the disappearance of his niece Hannah. That's another misogynist matter too complex to describe as anything but loudly rattling family skeletons, and too juicy to spoil.
What Mikael learns is shocking. What he doesn't know is that Lisbeth has been hacking his notes as a fan, deducing clues that soon bring them together, as lovers and partners getting warmer about an unsavory cold case.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo takes its time unraveling the mystery, which won't sit well with mainstream U.S. audiences, now or in a remake. The movie contains a notable amount of sex but it's mostly brutal, taboo or vengeful, not titillating as Americans generally prefer. Most of it involves Lisbeth, and each sexual encounter informs about who she is, and what she's capable of doing. We learn as much about her mind as her boyish body. Rapace is a magnetic presence in a far-ranging mystery requiring such a solid character to orbit around.
Opens Friday at Tampa Theatre. Shown with English subtitles. A-
Steve Persall, Times film critic