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A Thrill Ride—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Films from Sweden rarely become cultural events in New York. Brace yourselves. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Swedish film with English subtitles based on the best selling book by Stieg Larsson, opens tomorrow. Get your tickets now. This is one movie you don’t want to miss.

Larsson’s trilogy has become a global phenomenon. The other books in the series include The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The latter has not yet been published in the U.S. and as evidence of the series’ popularity many diehard fans have ordered the book from Amazon UK.

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Fans of the books will not be disappointed with the film. From beginning to end, this is a thrill ride with an engrossing mystery, intriguing characters, and the kind of action (very bad guys getting their punishment) that has the audience cheering. The writers have sharpened Larsson’s story, eliminating some of the subplots that filled out the book but would be a distraction on screen.

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Larsson succeeded in creating appealing characters, so casting these roles was key. Here, the film makers struck gold, enlisting Noomi Rapace to play Lisbeth Salander, the charismatic “Girl” whose violent streak and computer skills make her a formidable opponent. Those who underestimate her do so at their peril. She is the best, albeit unconventional, researcher employed to vet journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played by Michael Nyqvist. Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger, wants to hire Blomkvist to find his beloved great-niece who disappeared when she was a teenager. Vanger suspects one of his greedy relatives but has never been able to uncover the guilty party. Impressed with Blomkvist’s skills and tenacity (he’s convicted of libel for refusing to back down on a series of stories), Vanger convinces the journalist to delve into this decades-old mystery.

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Salander, with her Goth dress, numerous tattoos and piercings, is an unlikely heroine with a complicated back story. Rapace is terrific, showing the violent Salander as well as the vulnerable young woman. Through flashbacks, we learn that as a child, Salander tried to kill her father, an abusive Russian thug, by tossing a firebomb into his car.

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Salander was attempting to protect her mother, but her actions labeled her as a juvenile offender, putting her in the system. When her longtime guardian becomes ill, she finds herself at the mercy of the sadist, Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson, above). The scenes involving these two are graphic and grisly. The director has pulled no punches showing the abuse Salander suffers at the hands of someone who is supposed to be helping her. Similarly, when she retaliates, the camera doesn’t turn away.

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Freed from Bjurman, Salander continues to follow Blomkvist’s investigation by hacking into his computer. She manages to decipher a series of numbers that have Blomkvist puzzled. When the two finally meet, Salander already knows a lot about Blomkvist while he remains clueless about her motivations. He’s drawn to her and doesn’t resist when she acts on her attraction for him. But these are two emotionally damaged individuals and their relationship will not be an easy one. (Departing from the book, the movie wisely chose to jettison the affair Mikael was carrying on with a colleague at his magazine).

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Yellowbird Productions has filmed the entire trilogy, with all three movies already released abroad. This first film will no doubt fuel enthusiasm for the other two Swedish productions. U.S. filmmakers are on the case, with Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and George Clooney all interested in playing Blomkvist. Kristen Stewart is rumored to be in talks to play Salander. Besides the casting, setting is important. The bleak Swedish landscape is as much a character in the film as Salander. Could the action take place in New York? L.A.? Whatever casting and location decisions are made for an American version, the bar has been set high—very high.

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