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“Stockholm Syndrome”

Review: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Grade: B+ (Rent It)

SHE’S AN ANGRY ward of the state.  She’s a goth hacker who can crack high-security codes and passwords like they’re fortune cookies.  She’s got more hardware in her face than C-3PO.  She wears a charming little T-shirt, while rolling out of bed after a one-night-stand with some chick from the club, which reads: “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck.”

She’s Lisbeth Salander, the femme fatale and titular girl in the American film adaptation of Stieg Larson’s best-selling page-turner “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  When Larson died at the age of 50 in Stockholm in 2004, after climbing seven flights of stairs to his office because the elevator wasn’t working, he left behind three completed but unpublished manuscripts collectively called the “Millennium Series.”  It’s worth remembering that the first in the series was originally titled Män som hatar kvinnor (or “Men Who Hate Women”) before being rebranded in the American book market.  Larson’s crime novel is an indictment of the sleazy industrialists who run modern-day Sweden, but it’s also, to a larger extent, a drama of misogyny wherein women are raped and killed for sport and men seemingly get away with murder.  That’s where Lisbeth, as the dark avenger, and sidekick Mikael Blomkivst (played by Daniel “007” Craig) come in.  As a financial journalist, Mikael is the muckraker who plays by the rules while Lisbeth operates above the law.  He tells Lisbeth: “I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”

By 2011, the plot of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” should already be familiar since Larson’s storyline is not just well-read but much-discussed.  (My 94-year-old grandmother may have never read such detailed scenes of S&M torture had a friend and fellow bridge-player not leant her a paperback copy.) The screenplay is by Oscar-winning Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Awakenings”) and though, at a protracted 158 minutes, it runs a bit long, it distills Larson’s novel into its bare essentials: Lisbeth’s rape/revenge on her legal guardian Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), Martin Vanger’s confession as he prepares to kill the novel’s hero Mikael, and that haunting last image of Lisbeth seeing Mikael stroll off with his editor Erika (Robin Wright), leaving Lisbeth out in the snow, all alone on her motorcycle.

In short, the narrative begins in media res: after losing a libel suit, Mikael is hired by the patriarch of the Vanger dynasty, Henrik Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer) to write the family history and solve the murder/disappearance of his grandniece Harriet.  The Vangers reside on a private island and their family tree is rotten to the core: father/daughter incest, rape, not to mention Nazism and generations of secrets and lies.  In a parallel plot resides Lisbeth who, deemed by legally insane after setting her father on fire, comes to help Mikael solve the mystery and in the process, soften a bit and ultimately save the day.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is benefited by two tremendous talents in and behind the scenes: first, there’s newcomer Rooney Mara (“The Social Network”) as Lisbeth.  She’s simply captivating, a living-breathing switchblade.  Then there’s the Knight of Noir, David Fincher, who demands that it either be snowing or perpetually midnight in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  The amber flashbacks of the Vangers circa 1965 recall the equally tragic past of the Van Orton family in “The Game” (1997).  Scenes of sexual torture hearken back to the queasiness of “Seven” (1995) and “Fight Club” (1999).  There’s also an eerily electronic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the former of whom already won an Oscar for scoring last year’s “The Social Network” (also directed by Fincher).

Given these top-shelf ingredients, and Larson’s potboiler at the center of it all, it was hard to go wrong.  “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a slick and moody adaptation, cool but not chilling.  Perhaps Lisbeth’s tattoo artist says it best when he warns the girl, his gun buzzing, “This is really gonna hurt.”