Which would you rather see: a movie called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or a movie called Men Who Hate Women? The former suggests intrigue, exposed skin, perhaps a dash of Eastern mysticism; the latter sounds like an angry feminist tract. Which probably explains why Men Who Hate Women, a Swedish film adapted from Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novel of the same title, is being released in the U.S. as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In truth, the movie fits both titles, almost to the point where it suffers from split personalities.
In a way, that’s apropos, since the story features two separate protagonists who only gradually come together. The title character, Lisbeth Salander (Rapace), a sullen cyberpunk who’s not just tattooed but also aggressively pierced, works for a security firm and has been hired to investigate disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist). Mikael, in turn, has been hired by an elderly tycoon (Taube) to find out what happened to the tycoon’s niece, who vanished without a trace some four decades earlier. Before long, Lisbeth and Mikael, in spite of their age difference and wildly disparate backgrounds, have formed both a professional and a romantic relationship, discovering that they in fact have a great deal in common—most notably, a tendency to be violently assaulted at inordinate length.
As a brooding mystery, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo works reasonably well, though the fact that the crime under investigation is ancient history tends to keep any real sense of urgency at low throttle. But director Niels Arden Oplev’s lip-smacking relish in the villains’ sadism repeatedly threatens to cross the line into exploitation territory, making the film seem like a bizarre mash-up of Agatha Christie and Dario Argento. (If that sounds awesome to you, buy your ticket now.) Lisbeth always gets her revenge, true, but her ass-kicking feels like little more than justification for the lovingly photographed scenes of rape and abuse that precede it. Two sequels have already been released in Sweden—let’s hope that they focus more on the woman and less on the men who hate her.