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Courtesy of Music Box Films
Swede Noomi Rapace gives a stunning performance as computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
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★★★★★

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

Not Rated

Now playing at select
theaters

Swedish, with English subtitles

When I walked into the theater to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, all I knew about the film was that it was Swedish and that its general buzz was very positive. In retrospect, I’m convinced that my initial lack of exposure was a good thing; a two-and-a-half hour Swedish mystery film based on a book whose title translates literally to Men who Hate Women and whose poster highlights a creepy looking Goth girl is not exactly my idea of a fun Friday night.

But do not be misled: this is a fantastic film. The plot is unceasingly captivating, the characters are deep and played by outstanding actors, and you will find yourself so emotionally drawn into the film that it will be hard to get out of your head.

The movie begins with the middle aged, well known investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist being charged with fraud and forced out of his job as a writer for the magazine Millenium. He has resolved to carry out his sentence in peace, when he receives a call from the very old and wealthy Henrik Vanger, who hires him to look into the forty-year-old disappearance of his beloved niece, Harriet Vanger. Although her body was never found and no clues have ever linked anyone to the disappearance, Henrik is convinced a greedy family member committed the crime. The mystery only deepens as Mikael joins forces with the highly eccentric but brilliant Lisbeth Salander, as they slowly unravel the horrific truth behind what happened to Harriet.

On all counts the movie is intriguing, and especially so in the complexities of the characters. Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) is a wronged yet firmly compassionate man whose intense curiosity guides him in his investigative pursuits; Henrik (Sven-Bertil Taube) is a powerful and aged man whose longing to find out what happened to his niece remains unabated by the passage of decades; and the many members of the Vanger family each claim in their own right a piece of the audience’s suspicion. But most enthralling is Lisbeth — played skillfully by Noomi Rapace — whose pitch-black hair, spiked collar, and many piercings hide a troubled and potentially unstable soul. The film permits the audience time to get to know her life in graphic detail, but although we see what she suffers and how she reacts to the oftentimes shocking situations of her past and present, she is the type of girl you can never truly know. Watching her relationship develop with Mikael is nearly as interesting as the trail of murder and deception that they uncover throughout the film.

The overall pace of the movie is slow and steady — in the best way possible. Ample time is permitted to get to know the characters, settings, and every known detail of Harriet’s disappearance, so that each new development in the story — whether it be in the central investigation or in the life of one of the characters — affects someone you’ve gotten to know in a significant way. While most films adaptations of novels seem riddled with plot holes, the care and delicacy with which this film was put together lets it flow naturally and stand completely on its own. You don’t leave the theater wishing the director had done something differently or that the editors had cut out that one scene — every scene is both necessary and interesting, and every action meaningful

A film that deals with such heavy subject matter as death, torture, abuse, mental instability, and downright hatred deserves to be handled with careful talent, and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t disappoint. The result is a clever and breathtaking film that is an absolute must-see for anyone who appreciates the art of filmmaking.