The original title of the massive bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was “Men Who Hate Women.” Its author, Stieg Larsson, intended to leave his fortune to the Communist Party when he died in 2004 (though a mistake in his will prevented that from happening). If you are unfamiliar with the story (which was, along with the rest of the trilogy, made into a successful series of Swedish films released in the U.S. last year), put your expectations for subtlety at the level marked “undergraduate.” This series of potboilers, like The Silence of the Lambs, involves a serial killer, sadism, women in peril, a secret cell where awful things happen to captured victims, and an unusual crime-solving partnership between a man and a woman. What it doesn’t offer is the slightest instance of plausibility, psychological depth, or even clever dialogue. And as directed by David Fincher, the Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t far from being rated X.
The young woman of the title, played by Rooney Mara (who is best known for having played the exasperated girlfriend of Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of Fincher’s last movie, The Social Network), is a mohawked, multiple-pierced (even, as we learn, in her nipples) Swedish punk computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander. At the start of the film, she is hired to investigate Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a crusading journalist who has just lost a major libel lawsuit against a corporate giant who, like all capitalists in the film, obviously came by his fortune dishonestly.
Salander has a history of antisocial behavior and petty crime, so she can only access a trust fund meant to support her if she can prove she is an upstanding citizen to a court-appointed guardian who naturally takes the opportunity to tell the girl she can’t have the money unless she provides oral sex to him. Whether it would be wise to ask a violent and hostile person to perform this task against her will is one of many legitimate questions the movie simply ignores in its quest to provide an ever more-revolting series of gruesome images. This scene is only the first of what will turn out to be three unbelievably sick and lurid encounters between the pair, but don’t worry: Lisbeth is capable of defending herself.
She and Blomkvist join forces (well into this 158-minute movie) to investigate the case of a girl who went missing in Sweden 40 years ago. Her great-uncle, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), wants Blomkvist to write a family history and maybe solve the crime while he’s at it. Vanger mentions that his family of wealthy industrialists is — just as you’d expect — full of Nazis. What else would you expect a communist writer to come up with if not the idea that making a fortune means you’re probably a National Socialist?