The Swedish title for Stieg Larsson's bestselling book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Män som hatar kvinnor, which translates roughly to Men Who Hate Women. With a title so fitting, why the change for the English version? Perhaps because the tattooed woman is the real focus of the story. In her, Larsson has found a detective as keen and unlikely as a modern-day Miss Marple — though with significantly more piercings.
The girl with the dragon tattoo is Lisbeth Salander, a standoffish young woman hardened to the world by some terrible, secret past that only begins to unravel later, in the second and third books in Larsson's series. She is brusque and punkish and also happens to possess a number of invaluable investigative tools: a photographic memory, computer hacking genius, and a thirst for justice. These attributes make her an enigmatic heroine and an irresistible asset for the other main character, Mikael Blomkvist.
Blomkvist is a renowned reporter for the small Millennium magazine. Fresh off a major libel scandal, Blomkvist is charged by the wealthy Henrik Vanger to investigate his niece's disappearance some 40 years prior. Harriet Vanger vanished from the wealthy family's island estate when she was only 16, and Henrik suspects she was murdered by someone within the family. Harriet was once a babysitter for Blomkvist, and with a particular soft spot for her, he is compelled (and sustained by a tidy sum of kronor) to take the case. But only when he teams up with Salander is he able to crack it, uncovering generations of lies and shocking Vanger family secrets.
The film is in Swedish with subtitles and produced by the Swedish production company Yellow Bird. This same company produced the Wallander TV series starring Kenneth Branagh, which is probably why the film takes on a similar haunting look, with bluish-gray lighting and stark scenery. The palette and an eerie soundtrack are perfectly suited for the plot, which keeps the audience mildly unsettled, aware of a current of evil running below the surface.
Anyone who has become rapt by Larsson's complex storytelling might wish for more of the intricate, layered plotlines from the book. The film, like most adaptations, sheds some of these layers to keep the story moving. But the editing maintains the most important parts and lays the requisite groundwork for the sequels.
Having read the books, I was most hesitant about the casting, but Noomi Rapace is a pitch-perfect Salander, embodying the most complex character in the novel with ease and style. And for a character millions of readers have pored over and connected with, her success in the film carries a weight much larger than most other aspects of the film.