Lisbeth Salander, thin as a knife, is 24 but at times looks 14, with hair "as short as a fuse" and a penchant for applying heavy makeup "in a color scheme that indicated she might be colorblind." That's the description from Stieg Larsson's wildly popular novel "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and indeed that's exactly how she looks in Niels Arden Oplev's fine, brooding movie. Noomi Rapace, as Salander, moves tightly, as if she's carrying something that just might break; she's an investigator and a computer hacker who's got her own secrets. But pretty much everybody in this movie is carrying around secrets.
A combination of violent thriller, taut procedural and psychological drama, it's at heart the story of a missing woman. Harriet Vanger, whom we see in a photo, disappeared 40 years ago from a family gathering, never to be seen again. Was she murdered? Does she live?
Her uncle (Sven-Bertil Taube) hires a disgraced journalist (Michael Nyqvist) to investigate. He's soon joined by Salander, with the two forming a strange and unclassifiable bond. All this takes place in a remote Swedish village, where everyone knows everyone else.
The film, a huge box-office hit in Europe, is at times horrifically violent. I suspect the upcoming U.S. version of the film may soften several key scenes, making it more palatable but perhaps less haunting.
But Rapace's steely gaze stays with you when the movie's over. She's a unique heroine who finds strength in fury.