Noomi Rapace gets your attention quickly. (Music Box Films)
Leathered, pierced, pale and tattooed, Lisbeth Salander is both damaged and dangerous, a sharp little knife of a woman who also happens to be a computer hacker extraordinaire.
In many ways, she is the ultimate modern heroine, a timely and tough moral compass who has made the three Stieg Larsson novels she stars in international best-sellers.
Now Lisbeth, played with constant edge by Noomi Rapace, comes to film with the "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," a Swedish film already a smash hit in Europe.
As with any novel-to-film adaptation, something gets lost in the translation, but not much. Director Niels Arden Oplev and screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg manage to stuff nearly all of Larsson's first novel into this movie, which includes the novel's weaknesses.
In "Tattoo," the antisocial Lisbeth becomes involved with middle-aged journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) who is investigating the decades-earlier disappearance of a Swedish industrial heiress.
It's a tawdry story involving Nazis, sexual abuse and a great deal of violence against women, but it takes a while to get rolling. Before Lisbeth and Mikael team up, we follow them separately; and quite frankly, following Lisbeth is a heck of a lot more interesting than following Mikael.
When it comes to visual entertainment, hot, pierced, tattooed tough girls beat journalists any day.
Luckily there's enough Lisbeth in the film's first hour to keep things (very) interesting; and once she's motorcycling down the movie's main road, the flick catches fire.
Mikael's character works as a balance to Lisbeth's -- he's almost as bland as she is outrageous, and while he deals with adversity (he's scheduled to go to prison following a slander charge), she endures absolute horror-show situations. An early attack on Lisbeth, and her consequent retaliation, is the stuff of nightmares.
In this case, opposites attract and work well together, and Larsson's far-reaching mystery gives the film plenty of room to travel.
Still, it's all about Lisbeth, and the previously unknown Rapace brings just the right stoic seethe to the character with her tight body a seeming constant knot of tension. You never want her to leave the screen.
Director Oplev stumbles a bit at the very end as he separates Lisbeth and Mikael for no apparent reason (one of the book's complications is missing from the film). But overall he succeeds in capturing both the tone and passion of Larsson's novel.
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" tackles misogyny, capitalism, racism and political fanaticism, but in the end it's all about the girl. And they got the girl very right.
You don't mess with Lisbeth Salander. And you'd do well not to miss her, either.