This first in a trilogy of films inspired by Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millennium novels sets out an investigation on two fronts that eventually converge. Micke (Michael Nyqvist) is a journalist shamed by a libel action a wealthy industrialist brings against one of his articles; summoned by mysterious phone call to a remote island, he’s employed by a retired shipping magnate to track down his niece, who went missing, presumed dead, four decades earlier.
Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a Gothy computer hacker paid to work against the journo during his trial, attempts to stay connected to Micke’s laptop - this, while fending off the brutal ministrations of her new, sexually abusive guardian. The film’s original title translates as “Men Who Hate Women” (not exactly good box-office, one suspects), and a few of those are encountered along the way, yet there’s something refreshing in the way the Lisbeth strand comes to dodge and subvert all our expectations.
Instead, we get a satisfyingly twisty pulp plot: something like The Big Sleep, updated with piercings and modems. Director Niels Arden Oplev seeks out locations that very nearly rival Wallander for atmospheric parkiness, and he’s recruited tremendous faces in the lead roles, at least as vivid as those that may have leapt out from the page. Rapace - sulky and astoundingly cheekboned, doing her bit to raise the share value of clompy boots, black lippy and fingernails bitten down to the quick - may be the first great movie heroine of the decade.
At 152 minutes, the film risks the literalism that’s dogged the Harry Potter adaptations - translation: you certainly get your money’s worth - and sensitive viewers should be warned Oplev doesn’t shy away from Larsson’s darker lines of inquiry: it’s a rare film that earns its 18 certificate, while remaining on just the right side of exploitation. Consider it the Volvo of franchise thrillers: a little boxy, but very reliable, and a good deal more mindful of its audience’s intelligence than those Dan Brown-derived howlers. Bring on parts two and three.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is released on DVD Monday.