Lisbeth Salander is not simply a girl with a dragon tattoo. She’s a girl with many tattoos and many piercings and an attitude to match. She’s a fascinating character, but unfortunately “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” isn’t solely dedicated to watching Salander fight crime while roaring around on her motorcycle.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

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Salander (Noomi Rapace, “Daisy Diamond”) gets involved with Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, “Downloading Nancy”), an ordinary journalist who is swept up into an extraordinary investigation of an almost-40-year-old murder of a 16-year-old girl. Salander and Blomkvist join forces to solve the twisted mystery that involves uncovering a family’s darkest secrets, a series of grotesque killings, some Nazis and some sadists.

Needless to say, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a pretty dark film. For the most part, it takes place in the bleak but beautiful Swedish countryside that has been scarred by the murder. The film’s note of haunting emptiness is offset by an extreme amount of graphic violence. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is based off the bestselling book of the same title by Stieg Larsson, and the film stays true to the author’s original depictions of brutality.

The majority of the violence is directed toward women — there are two rape scenes and an endless host of female mutilated bodies. If the film had kept its official, international title — “Men Who Hate Women” — then the graphic images wouldn’t be as unexpected. The violence is incredibly shocking and gets increasingly difficult to watch, as it’s not the impersonal, mainstream gunfight violence that’s found in most movies. The violent scenes in this film are very real and disturbing, but the movie provides no commentary on the acts or on the problems in society that gave rise to them.

Perhaps director Niels Arden Oplev (“Worlds Apart”) chose not to focus on delivering a message on violence against women because he was too caught up in his jumpy storyline. It’s hard enough as it is to keep track of the various suspects, who’s dead and who’s not and how each suspect is related to the others. In addition, Salander and Blomkvist each have a separate, minor storyline. But neither of their individual stories is as intriguing as the main one. While Oplev is able to keep the combined narrative engrossing on the screen, the story is not easy to follow, which makes for a tangled tale.

The one aspect of the film that encourages the audience to stay on top of the story is Salander herself. She is an effortlessly cool and tough heroine with impressive and diverse skills — from hacking computers to having a photographic memory. Unfortunately, she’s so engaging that it’s hard not to wish Blomkvist would just disappear or let her handle everything. Rapace brings a surprising amount of depth to Salander. While she is basically a gothic superwoman, she’s also tortured by a disturbing past and has difficulty reaching out to the world around her. At times, she’s as hard to figure out as the case she’s trying to crack. Luckily, sequels are already in production, so there will be more chances to discover exactly what Lisbeth Salander is capable of.

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