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Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The (2010)

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 03/21/10 21:24:27

"Noomi Rapace: another reason to stay interested in movies."
5 stars (Awesome)

Lisbeth Salander, the 24-year-old heroine of Stieg Larssonís bestseller "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and now the film version, is a great, prickly creation.

On paper she may seem a collection of quirks: a goth, bisexual, chain-smoking, brilliant computer hacker with a history of violent behavior. But Noomi Rapace, the actress who breathes life into Lizbeth, gives a full-scale star-making performance with reserves of complexity and pain. Rapace carries this two-and-a-half-hour murder-mystery solidly, and seemingly effortlessly, on her slim sharp shoulders. Whoever takes the role in the upcoming American remake has gigantic shoes to fill.

Lisbeth isnít the only lead, though. The other is Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a journalist facing three months in prison after his exposť of a corrupt industrialist got him tagged for libel. Mikael is hired by another industrialist, this one retired and far more benevolent, to help solve a 40-year-old mystery. The businessmanís niece went missing in the Ď60s, and he believes she was murdered. He also has little trust or love for his family, some of whom were or still are Nazi sympathizers. Itís a large family with many red herrings. Mikael takes the job ó he has nothing better to do, and the case revs up his muckrakerís blood.

The mystery isnít the best reason to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; for one thing, it leads to the sort of revelatory moment weíve all seen a million times, in which the killer explains himself and seems to lack only a pointer and chalkboard. (The recent Shutter Island included that, with some parodic wit, I think.) No, the reason to watch is the relationship between the fortyish journalist and the severe young hacker, who eventually helps him with the case. The original Swedish title of the book and movie is Men Who Hate Women, and Lisbeth has met more than her share of such men. But Mikael is different; he doesnít seem to have a corrupt or even sexual bone in his body ó he cares only about compiling evidence. His monomania appeals to Lisbeth, who has her own one-track mind.

The movie really is their story, though itís over an hour into the film before they even meet. Before that, we watch them separately, each having a difficult time of it. Lisbeth is assaulted twice by a sleazeball whoís been appointed her new ďguardian,Ē but she avenges herself so swiftly and decisively that we spend the rest of the film not worrying about her. She can take care of herself. Itís Mikael, surrounded by a clan of suspects monitoring how close heís getting to the truth, that we worry about. Director Niels Arden Oplev spreads gravely ominous music over the proceedings, pointing up how isolated Mikael is in his shack on the familyís compound. The suspense, I think, would be easier to sustain if we didnít know there are two other books ó and movies, though they have yet to open here ó in this series.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo compels us in the good old ways ó the piling up of clues, the decoding of hints, the use of old photos to recreate a micro-movie of a subtle but key event. What sets it apart thematically is the late Stieg Larssonís preoccupations with racism, misogyny, and financial scandal as corrosive elements in the Swedish character. What sets it apart emotionally is the moving and sometimes funny rapport between the rumpled reporter (Michael Nykvistís warm, steady performance will probably be overlooked but shouldnít be) and the pierced angel/demon who can do anything with a MacBook.

Iíll happily sit for two more movies featuring this pair; I only wish there could be more.

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