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Cinema Signal: Go! The brilliance of the book is carried into a powerful, character based mystery series in three parts.

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,
The Girl Who Played with Fire,
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
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[Ed. note: because of the unpredictable way accented letters are rendered
in English language browsers, they have been intentionally omitted.
Please note that this is a review of the Swedish film based on this book--not the American remake.]
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
(aka, Man som hatar kvinnor, [Men Who Hate Women], and "Millennium - the Film")

On his 82nd birthday, a man's chiseled face shows agony as he removes the wrapping of a package whose contents brings him pain. He knows exactly what it is... a framed, pressed flower the like of which he has received on this day for the last 30 years. He has assumed all along that they're being sent by the killer of his beloved niece Harriet--a family member who knew about Harriet's tradition of annual flowers for her uncle and guardian when she was a child. As a patriarch of the Vanger family, Henrik Vanger is wealthy and has, from the day Harriet disappeared from the Vanger family island, agonized over his tragic loss.

That case, long thought closed, is a major plot line of a magnificently constructed saga of a story. The second of the three major plotlines involves one Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative journalist actively exposing corruption in the banking and business world. But his crusading ways have been brought to a halt by having been found guilty of libel and defamation for saying things he didn't really say against financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, a man whose illicit activities behind a facade of corporate legitimacy has been the aim of Blomqvist's journalistic pen.

Blomkvist, never imagining he'd be found guilty on the flimsy evidence against him, decides to make a Martha Stewart move and accepts the three-month jail term in order to move on--making the calculation, presumably, that the scandal factor over the verdict will subside soon afterward. Accordingly, for the good of his magazine Millennium, he steps down from his editorial position on the specialty magazine for which he writes and co-publishes with his married lover, Erika Berger. She's alarmed by his decision at a time when the magazine is feeling the financial effects of Wennerstom's enmity.

In the offices of Milton Security, a company that offers counter-measures to threats and probing investigative reports, an older man receives a breakdown of the life of Mikael Blomkvist. When the man scans the report, he's blown away by its astounding depth of personal and business detail. He asks who could know such things about anyone. "Lisbeth Salander, our best researcher," he's told.

Before Blomkvist must report for confinement, he's contacted by this man, who turns out to be in the hire of Martin Vanger, who wishes to meet with him at the Vanger estate.

Reluctantly, but interested in what this might entail, Blomkvist treks to the Vanger estate community, which connects to the mainland by a bridge. In Vanger's office, the business giant explains that he had Mikael vetted in order to confirm his impressions--that Mikael's investigative work, apparent honesty, and proven persistence were true despite his current notoriety in the press. The confirmation caused him to think that the reporter was the one perfect man to perform one last investigation into his daughter Harriet's disappearance 30 years ago... if the journalist would agree to a year's commitment and to the generous pay offer.

Agreeing, Blomkvist asks about the person who uncovered so much detail about him that even he's forgotten. Lisbeth Salander, at this moment, is just a name to him.

The third plotline of the movie (and the book on which it's based) brings us to one of the most fascinating creatures in mystery literature, the "Girl" of the title. There is much to set her apart, and the dragon tattoo on her back is the least of it. There is, for example, what she can do with the primary tool of her craft: the computer.

Salander is at the level of hacking that means no one is exempt from her investigative ingenuity. It's how a person of such a vulnerable status with the governing apparatus in Sweden, to which she's been a severely abused victim, can function at such a high level. It's how she can tap past firewalls and into just about anyone's computer. Mikael Blomkvist's, for example. When you can have total control over someone's hard drive, the concepts of secret and confidential lose all meaning.

She, too, is impressed by something about the convicted libelist Blomkvist. Only what she discovers about him makes it clear to her that he's innocent of the charges against him. Because the headlines keep her interest in his case alive, and because her sense of justice burns with an incandescent intensity, she puts a little research time into Wennerstrom, the trial winner. She leaves the proof of what this guy is really all about on Blomkvist's hard drive. The material is damaging enough to guarantee the ex-convict journalist complete exoneration and vindication, and lets him know he's got an extraordinary friend in his corner. She has just salvaged his reputation and that of his magazine. He owes her more than he can repay.

Carrying her laptop, one night, dressed in black leathers, she races home by train. Walking briskly through a station corridor, she's blocked by five hoodlums who think they've got a plaything for the evening. This delusion ends with two of the most aggressive goons in pain on the ground, the others fleeing for their lives, and Salander's computer wrecked.

Bad enough, but the last thing this wiry girl wants is to bring attention to herself, expecially as it relates to the law and the Swedish system of "guidance" of their youth. For length considerations, the screenplay had to merely suggest the massive corruption in government that allows brutality of its younger citizens who have become detached from family. The causes of Ms. Salander's detachment is suggested in a flashback and is fully detailed in Larsson's next book in what is dubbed the Millenium series, "The Girl Who Played With Fire." The full expose' of the evil cabal that, at her age of 28, still maintains official control over her, comes in the final book, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," the movie version of which has not been released in the U.S.

However smart Lisbeth Salander is (IQ off the charts, photographic memory) she's still a highly vulnerable victim of that system who is constantly defending herself against it--a fact that is made evident when she finds that the new guardian who has been assigned to her is a misogynist predator. It isn't long before he demands her sexual compliance in exchange for the money she needs for a new computer. Unfortunately for this new enemy, he has grossly underestimated his charge and overestimated his power. He pays a heavy price.

Blomkvist's reaction to what she has done for him is altogether different. In tracking down the researching genius who cloaks herself in obsessive privacy while becoming his guardian angel, it's only her interest in him that allows him to enter her apartment and stay long enough to convince her to help him on the Vanger case. The Vanger clan and their family secrets will never be the same.

I can't even begin to tell you how big a fan I am of Stieg Larsson since reading the book on which this film is based. Among all the books I review on Critical Mystery Tour, it is my favorite of 2008--in great part because of the exceptional character of the "Girl." How refreshing to have a female character who, against great odds, defies the worst and wins by intellectual and physical means. My kind of heroine.
For more on the book and its subject, the review of the book is here. For more on the book, the author, the series he envisioned and the tragedy that cut it short, see "Larsson.htm."

Only rarely does a film owe so much to its literary source, and this depends completely on the degree of respect the filmmakers have for it. Previous examples are Cormac McCarthy's "No Country For Old Men," which was made with the writer in close consultation, and the recently released "The Road." It's evident from the film that director Niels Arden Oplev had the same respect for Larsson's work which, with the equal respect from screenwriters Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel, captures all the dramatic, character and descriptive essentials of a sweeping and complex novel that fascinates more with every page.

Before seeing the film, my anxiety was largely over the casting choices. Here, too, I come out in high favor of Oplev's judgement. Lisbeth Salander, to me, is one of the most intriguing characters in mystery literature. Her exploits and vulnerabilities are safest, I feared, in the mind's eye. Who could play her without compromising her utter singularity composed of high-level functioning despite a past of abuse and horrors and her consequent distrust of all forms of authority? Who would have the wiry build, the right look, the martial arts? Noomi Rapace does all that, with a mercurial beauty and earthy sensuality that fulfills the image precisely.

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The Blu-ray Edition DVD

The phenomenon of the book as a smash hit had everything to do with the making of this film but, in a peculiar film irony, it is also behind the announcement in the trades in December of 2009 that Sony Pictures has optioned the English-language screen rights for a remake, possibly with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, for release in 2012. I only wish that Noomy Rapace is offered the Salander part--I think she owns it.

That an American producer would want to remake an already fine film has everything to do with American audiences' lack of gravitation toward foreign films with unfamiliar casts and nothing to do with the quality of this excellent and elegant Swedish production. The American-bred version can only aspire to be as good, despite internationally bankable stars. You can't fault Sony for recognizing the big number potential in a story like this, but they won't make a better film--just a different one. In any event, cinema history is in the making and this chapter of it has Stieg Larsson's name on it.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Very well written, perceptive
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
Site rating: 8

I loved this movie,this reviewer makes me want to run out and buy the book.

                                                           ~~ Michelle
Very well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer
Site rating: 10

Completely agree. The Swedes got it right and no need to repeat with hot shot american movie stars. I have read all three books before seeing the movie. One of the best representations of the book/into/movie that I have seen. So happy the Swedes moved on Larsson's phenomenal books before the rest of the world.

                                                           ~~ M.
Well written
Site rating: 8

                                                           ~~ richard lloyd, Sr.

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Noomi Rapace is the girl with the dragon tattoo
The victim of abuse, now returning the favors.

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