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Swedish thriller successfully breaks Hollywood rules

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This hit Swedish film was based on a bestselling novel, and it shows.

Director Niels Arden Oplev sticks close to Stieg Larsson's serial-killer thriller Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women), to the extent that the movie's two protagonists don't even meet until almost an hour into the 2 1/2-hour film. And after the climax, where most Hollywood movies would tie up the loose ends within a couple of minutes, this film respects the characters enough to bring their individual stories to a proper, if protracted, conclusion, in defiant contradiction of thriller convention.

Admittedly, part of the reason for this is to establish the necessary plot points for two subsequent films in the trilogy, due in Canadian theatres later this year. But director Oplev sticks to his guns in the belief that characters are more important than movie thriller tropes. That brings us, as an audience, just a little closer to the story's ill-matched gumshoes.

Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is a disgraced investigative journalist facing a jail term for libelling a sleazy Teflon industrialist. In the few months of freedom he has before serving his sentence, Blomkvist takes a lucrative assignment from aging industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven Bertil-Taube) to learn the truth behind the disappearance of his favourite niece back in 1966.

Vanger suspects a member of his own family may be responsible, and given that the Vanger family tree has produced more than its share of rotten apples -- Nazis and Nazi sympathizers -- Blomkvist is obliged to investigate the family genealogy.

In this task, he gets assistance from unseen computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a troubled young woman with a mysterious but decidedly criminal past. Salander is not above skirting legal procedures in contending with the sexually abusive sadist (Peter Andersson) assigned by the courts as her legal guardian. (Their two scenes constitute the film's controversial content. Consider yourself warned, movie fans with delicate sensibilities.)

Eventually, Blomkvist and Salander team up in person to uncover the fact that the skeletons in the Vanger closet are more horrific than either could have imagined.

If director Oplev flouts the three-act structure of the Hollywood thriller, he does so in the knowledge that there is compensation. We get the same submersing pleasures from the film's characters and mysteries that we get from a quality novel.

The film has the added attraction of a couple of solid performances. The less showy role is Blomkvist, which Nyqvist inhabits with rumpled, world-weary facility.

But it is Rapace who flares with the dark intensity of a sunspot at the film's centre. Authentically tough, enigmatic, angry and preternaturally smart, she's the most fascinating sleuth the movies have seen in a long, long time.


Other Voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.


The mismatched leads make a compelling pair, and director Niels Arden Oplev keeps the action relatively tight.

-- Elizabeth Wietzman, New York Daily News


If you ignore The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ... because it's in Swedish with English subtitles, you probably deserve the remake Hollywood will surely screw up.

-- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a compelling thriller to begin with, but it adds the rare quality of having a heroine more fascinating than the story.

-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


A stylish thriller with real complexity, people with interesting faces (and) a sensational actress cast as an ambisexual goth hacker heroine.

-- Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal


There's a lot to revel in, be provoked by and obsess over.

-- Tom Maurstad, Dallas Morning News

A finely plotted, stylishly photographed and brilliantly acted whodunit that clocks in at 21..2 hours but never seems long.

-- V.A. Musetto, New York Post


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is rife with nightmarishly violent and horrific behaviour. It's intense, graphic, frightening. And, yes, exhilarating.

-- Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer




-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2010 D7

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