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CODE RED: Noomi Rapace is a computer hacker with a chip on her shoulder.

Girl Talk

Womankind gets its revenge in 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

By Steve Palopoli

STIEG LARSSON'S books are the hottest thing going in mysteries right now. It's hard to imagine a more perfect set of circumstances coming along to turn three Swedish novels—which Larsson is said to have originally written for his own entertainment, not for publication—into a worldwide phenomenon. First, there's their mystique: like his journalist character Mikael Blomkvist, Larsson was himself a controversial and uncompromising reporter, and the books provide some insight into his own, now-larger-than-life legend. Second, his tragic death from a heart attack in 2004 (though many still believe he was murdered by his right-wing enemies) ensured that his planned series of 10 books would be cut short at three, leaving readers hungry for the last installment of the "Millennium Trilogy," which finally arrives in the United States this year.

Last is the brilliant marketing of this series. In the United States, the first book's title was changed from the more-apt-but-less-appetizing original The Man Who Hated Women to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and sold like wildfire. So this new film version couldn't have come at a better time. Despite the fact that it was made in Sweden and forces English-speakers to deal with subtitles, it has a huge built-in audience waiting for it.

And thankfully, director Niels Arden Oplev and screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg recognized that more important than any of the hype swirling around the book is the protagonist at its center, Lisbeth Salander. She is the girl with the dragon tattoo, and she's maybe the best fictional character to come around yet this century. Casting for this computer-hacking, nonstop-ass-kicking ice storm of a young woman couldn't have been easy, but 20-year-old Swedish actress Noomi Rapace is absolutely incredible in her ability to bring Lisbeth to life. She is a force of nature, pure and simple.

The film follows the book faithfully, as Lisbeth is hired to dig up dirt on Mikael (played gently by Michael Nyqvist), but ends up helping him investigate the disappearance many years ago of Harriet, heiress to a creepy, feuding family of millionaires. Though it may use the U.S. title, the movie doesn't shy away from the book's unrelenting critique of the violence that society allows men to perpetuate against women, and though the scenes with certain unsavory characters may have been cut down in number, they are still surprisingly graphic.

Luckily, Lisbeth is womankind's ultimate revenge fantasy come true—sooner or later, her boots are gonna walk all over absolutely everyone. In the screening I saw at Cinequest, the crowd was cheering her exploits. That bodes well for the second and third films in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which were finished last year and have already been released internationally.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Unrated; 152 min.), directed by Niels Arden Opley, written by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, photographed by Jens Fischer and Eric Kress and starring Noomi Rapace, opens Friday at the Nickelodeon.

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