Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Ewa Fröling, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Andersson, Ingvar Hirdwall, Marika Lagercrantz, Björn Granath, Ewa Fröling, Michalis Koutsogiannakis, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Tomas Köhler, David Dencik
Written by: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg, based on a novel by Stieg Larsson
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content including rape, grisly images, sexual material, nudity and language
Language: Swedish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 152
Date: 02/27/2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Untamed 'Dragon'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Journalist Stieg Larsson died in 2004 and left behind several manuscripts. These were published as "the Millennium Trilogy" and went on to sell some 27 million copies worldwide. Three movies followed, made first in Larsson's home country of Sweden, with the inevitable American remakes on the way. The three Swedish movies opened in America in 2010, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With such a great background, title, and poster (with the eponymous girl glaring out from under a sinister hoodie), it's no wonder this first movie became something of a worldwide sensation.

In truth, it's not much more than a really good murder mystery, with references to Nazis and the Holocaust for weight. But since it focuses on a 40 year-old mystery, it's strong on details and procedures. And since it has an unusual character relationship at its center, it manages a constant emotional push and pull, which keeps things interesting. It's really quite ingenious in a rather basic way.

It begins with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who tries to bring down a corrupt businessman and ends up being sued for libel. Mikael decides to take a leave of absence from his magazine, and -- in the time before he goes to jail for three months -- he is offered the chance to solve the old mystery, a disappearance.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), is a brilliant computer hacker who is following Mikael; she determines that he was set up, and continues to follow his movements even after her job is finished. Eventually she contacts him and they begin to work on the case together. Essentially, a young woman vanished from an island on a day in which the only access to and from the island was via a closed bridge. As Mikael and Lisbeth dig, they discover a series of murders committed over the years, and the killer is still at large.

Covering a lengthy 152 minutes (and three hours in its television version), the film spends a good deal of time building Lisbeth's character -- with her punk hair, tattoos, boots and defiant attitude -- and detailing her elaborate system of defenses. In one case, she must deal with a sadistic, sexual predator that has been assigned as her probationary guardian. He rapes her, but she turns the tables on him and gets her revenge. She's slippery and cynical, and with a misplaced set of morals, but she seems genuinely connected to Mikael. One night, she slips into bed with him, has her way, and then leaves without a word. (Other times, she's seen sleeping with women.) Mikael, is, of course, also an appealing outsider and matches Lisbeth nicely.

The movie is too long for the mystery to be very effective, however, and there's an over-reliance on violence to help darken the mood, but otherwise, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an effective picture. The second part, The Girl Who Played with Fire, debuts on DVD in October, just before the third part, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest opens soon in U.S. theaters.

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