“The Girl” is tough and mean

Movie Review: “The Girl Who Played with Fire”

Directed by Daniel Alfredson

2009/Sweden, R, 209 min.

Gangster movies are usually tough and mean. The villains are often sadistic psychopaths. The heroes prevail, not so much because they are tougher and meaner, but because they have an uncommon capacity for absorbing punishment.

William Bendix beats diminutive Alan Ladd to a bloody pulp, several times, in the 1940s classic, “The Blue Dahlia,” for example, but Ladd survives, jails Bendix and the rest of the gangsters, and gets the girl at the end.

Dozens of other movie detectives and investigators survive sadistic tortures and guide the story, eventually, to a reasonably happy ending. Until recently, though, none of them ever got raped on screen.

Lisbeth Salander, standing 5 feet tall and 88 pounds, takes the rapes, the beatings and a few shootings just for good measure. She is the toughest and meanest gangster movie protagonist to date. Her saving grace, the one thing that wins the audience over and keeps them won over, is the one thing that she’ll go out of her way for: standing up for oppressed women. She’s an expert, several times over, on male brutality against women.

Salander is a character in author Stieg Larsson’s popular trilogy: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.”

In the first of these three movies, “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo,” the child Salander finds a way to stop her father from abusing her mother by pouring gasoline on him and setting him afire. She finds a way to stop a corrupt official from raping her, partly by blackmail but largely through terrifying the big ape. She finds a way to deal with almost everybody by re-directing all their web messages through her own little laptop! She was the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in the first movie, and she survived almost everything and put nearly everything right.

In the second movie, “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” the sadists and gangsters pursuing her are joined by the Swedish police. She’s wanted for multiple murders. Looking into her cold face and knowing that nothing can stand in her way, one might think she had carried out these crimes. Everybody in Sweden thinks so, except for the one investigative journalist she befriended in the first film.

The scenes of brutal violence and sexuality obscure the moral aspects of the first and second movies. Ms. Salander may be cold, and possibly cruel, but she is the flaming sword of an avenging angel against men who exploit women and the officials who cover for them. Whatever her intentions may have been, or even if her intentions are never discovered, her effect is to inject justice into a chaotic world of sordid and deliberate misery.

Millions of people around the world are reading this trilogy of books as fast as they can, because all three movies were made before the first book was released, and the third movie will probably be released soon. Read fast!

Photo: A scene from “The Girl Who Plays with Fire” features Noomi Rapace who plays Lisbeth Salander.