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The-Girl-with-the-Dragon-tattoo1If you think Swedish cinema is all isolation and despair, a tortured Bergmanesque look at the human condition, think again. In recent years directors like Lukas Moodysson and films such as “Let the Right One In” have redefined Scandinavian movies; quietly leaving behind the icy introspection typical of the best known filmmakers from that part of the world. The latest Swedish film to gain international notice is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a truly thrilling thriller based on a best selling novel.

In the opening minutes of the film Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a muck raking journalist for the controversial Millennium magazine, loses a libel case brought against him by a Swedish industrialist. Before he begins his three month prison sentence he is offered an intriguing job. Hired by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the scion of an industrial dynasty, he is charged with solving a forty-year-old murder. In the late sixties Vanger’s favorite niece disappeared, leaving no trace except for framed, pressed flowers which arrive every year on Henrik’s birthday. It is a cold case, one that the police haven’t been able to solve, but Vanger feels that Blomkvist’s dogged style might be able to uncover some new clues. Aiding the journalist in his search is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a trouble computer hacker with a massive tattoo of a dragon on her back.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a pulp thriller, complete with Nazis, bible references and bondage. There’s nothing terribly highbrow about it, but there is a certain elegance to how director Niels Arden Oplev slowly unfurls the clues, stretching the story tautly over the two-a-half-hour running time. The plot shouldn’t work; it has story shards all over the place—the verdict in the libel case, the hacker and her evil parole officer, the disappearance—but Oplev keeps the storytelling as crisp as the sound of a boot crunching on the snow that envelopes the landscape.

Top it off with some terrific performances—particularly from Rapace and Taube—some melodrama and as twisted a bad guy as we’ve seen since “Silence of the Lamb’s” Buffalo Bill and you have a slow burning mystery that builds to an explosive climax.

If this was an American film (and it will be soon) the disgraced, but dogged reporter might be played by Jeremy Renner, the computer hacker by Kristen Strewart and the obsessed industrialist by Christopher Plummer, and you know what, it wouldn’t be any better than the Swedish version. See it in its original language before Hollywood snaps it up and ruins it.

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