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Written by: Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, based on the novel by Steig Larsson

Directed By: Neils Arden Oplev

Starring: Michael Nykvist, Noomi Rapace Sven-Bertil Taube

Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular crime novel is every bit as dark and compelling as the book, as well as being visually striking and immaculately performed.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tells the story of Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a political journalist for Millennium Magazine. Blomkvist has just lost a libel case against a major industrialist and though he’s certain he was set up, he is sentenced to spend three months in prison. The other members of Millennium want to temporarily distance themselves from Blomkvist and he’s locked in a bout of writer’s block. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a loner, a stoic goth and the most talented hacker around, is hired to gather information on Blomkvist. Soon, Salander and Blomkvist become involved with trying to solve the 40-year-old murder of the niece of Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), patriarch of the Vanger Group which is an enormous national corporation as well as the most toxic family in Sweden.

At its most basic level, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a locked-room mystery. Harriet Vanger disappeared at a time when nobody could enter or leave the small island where the family lives. Only so many people could possibly be responsible and Henrik is sure it’s one of the mean, hateful members of his family. Harriet has not been seen since and the case has long been closed. Henrik is not satisfied and hopes to find answers before he dies, which is exactly what he hires Blomkvist to do.

This is a tightly constructed murder mystery. A unique take on an old genre, the particular members of the Vanger family as well as the way old evidence and modern technology interacts make this film more fascinating than its otherwise predictable structure should be.  The murder mystery, however, is beside the point and, as the original Swedish title Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) suggests, there is a much more important issue at the heart of this film. Larsson’s story focuses on the repeated occurrence of violence by men against women. This film treats the subjects of abuse, rape and incest with the solemnity such topics require but does not shy away from showing just how brutal and damaging they can be. The great achievement of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the way it portrays abuse without either glorifying or trivializing it. Many characters in this film are victims and Lisbeth is their hero. Rapace’s performance is impressive and intense, she plays a character with a mysterious and troubled past but who never outwardly betrays her emotions.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a really great film, well made and impressively concise. Oplev, faced with a potentially difficult task, deftly constructs this film with visual resonance and manages to avoid the pitfalls towards which this type of story could lead. This film burns with the icy, existential isolation of other Northern European thrillers such as Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia (1997) and never becomes preachy or melodramatic.

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