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Hate in a Cold Climate

MOVIE REVIEW
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

MILLENNIUM_MSHK_1_-1076
Knut Koivisto/Music Box Films

An epic-length murder mystery that takes in sexual abuse, serial killing, Nazism and incest does not sound like a barrel of laughs, and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is indeed no picnic. Based on the famous bestseller by Stieg Larsson, it's a locked-room detective story worthy of Agatha Christie, transplanted to the chilly Swedish countryside and goosed into life by one singular and incendiary character.

The plot kicks off when disgraced journalist Mikael (Michael Nyqvist, looking so world-weary his clothes seem to have crumpled from the inside) is hired to look into a 40-year-old puzzle, the disappearance of young Harriet Vanger (Ewa Fröling) from an isolated island. Her uncle is convinced it was murder, and that the killer is someone in the family. Mikael uncovers endless skeletons in the Vanger closet, so things turn nasty pretty quick.

But he's not the singular character. Gifted computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) becomes involved, first at a distance, then as Mikael's sort-of partner. Lisbeth is tattooed, pierced, sullen, slightly sociopathic, exhibiting Asperger's and keeping the lid on some screwed-up secrets of her own. Putting her at the center of an old-fashioned mystery story is the film's biggest and best jolt.

It certainly puts Ms. Rapace front and center. Disappearing into the character and closing the shutters, she seems to be built entirely of sharp angles and no curves at all, and filmed so that her eyes are perfectly black. Once or twice, she moves as if her joints are installed wrongly — an outward sign of Lisbeth's wonky wiring — and catches the hacker's waspish defense mechanisms perfectly.

The book's Swedish title is "Men Who Hate Women," and Mr. Larsson put his cards squarely on the table. Wickedness and misogyny lurk absolutely everywhere. Two scenes in particular more than earn the film its rating: first when Lisbeth is brutally abused by her guardian and then her graphic revenge — and both burn with the author's helpless fury at human behavior. His fury is almost too much for the film, and director Niels Arden Oplev struggles to find an ending or control the final melodrama while there's still anger left to be vented. But better a thriller with a temper than one that's asleep. Two sequels with this cast are done already and an American remake looks inevitable, but it'll struggle to match the cool efficiency or striking tone of the original. Try to meet Lisbeth before she turns into Carey Mulligan or similar.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Opened on March 19 in the United States and on March 12 in Britain.

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev; written by Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson; director of photography, Eric Kress; edited by Anne Osterud and Jannus Billeskov Jansen; music by Jacob Groth; production designer, Niels Sejer; costumes by Cilla Rorby; produced by Soren Staermose; released by Music Box Films (United States) and Momentum Pictures (Britain). In Swedish, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 32 minutes. This film is not rated by M.P.A.A. and rated 18 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Michael Nyqvist (Mikael Blomkvist), Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander), Lena Endre (Erika Berger) and Sven-Bertil Taube (Henrik Vanger).

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