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In search of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

In search of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s internationally bestselling “Millennium” trilogy, is an impossible, irresistible figure of fiction. A tattooed, pierced, brilliant, bisexual hacker with Asperger syndrome and an eidetic memory, Salander is something between cyberpunk superhero and avenging feminist angel. Battered by life and, more pointedly, by flawed bureaucracy — Salander is a ward of the state, declared incompetent to manage her own affairs without the oversight of a guardian for reasons unexplained until the second installment — she never fails to have her revenge on anyone who sees her as a potential victim.

Those people are, invariably, men. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the first book in Larsson’s trilogy and the source material for Niels Arden Oplev’s workmanlike film adaptation, has a Swedish title that translates to the far blunter “Men Who Hate Women.” It’s technically a murder mystery, an investigation into the disappearance of 16-year-old Harriet Vanger 40 years ago from her wealthy family’s island compound, but it’s just as much the story of how the abused, asocial Salander is lured in like a gone-feral housecat by Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced journalist, the only man in her life who she can’t run circles around, and a fanciful character in his own right.

The popularity of Larsson’s trilogy — the final installment of which isn’t coming out until May 25 in the U.S. — explains why Swedish production company Yellow Bird Films adapted all three parts in one fell swoop, with Niels Arden Oplev directing this first installment and Daniel Alfredson the second two. It also explains why Oplev and screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg take a cautious, “Harry Potter”-style approach to transferring their source material to the big screen, keeping close to the text, smoothing out a few extraneous narrative snarls and casting an able unknown, Noomi Rapace, as their beloved protagonist. The sinewy Rapace is able to get a lot out of her glare, which is good, because Salander isn’t much of a talker, and she doesn’t actually meet up with Blomkvist (played by an amused Michael Nyqvist) until the film’s halfway mark.

03012010_girlwithdragontattoo2.jpgThe reason is that, plotwise, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” still has way too much ground to cover. Crammed into that first hour (the film come in at just under two and a half) are the initial scandal that results in Blomkvist resigning from his magazine, Millennium, after being sued for libel; the reveal that he seems to have been set-up; the introduction to the Vangers, an aristocratic den of snakes; the background on Harriet, who turns out to have childhood tied to Blomkvist; Salander’s battles with a new, vicious guardian.

Really, these are just hurdles to be leaped on the way to uniting Salander and Blomkvist, the hacker punk and the boy detective grown up (as evoked by Blomkvist’s nickname, another of “Pippi Longstocking” creator Astrid Lindgren’s characters). Together, the pair have a funny, bemused crime-solving chemistry — their strengths are in research, which makes this the rare thriller content to have much of its drama involve someone hunched over a laptop. The film, thankfully, slows down to savor Salander and Blomkvist’s strange relationship, the side-effect of which is the feeling it would be a better pilot for a (non-existent) TV show than a stand-alone feature.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” takes place in what at times feels like a wintry alternate universe where every other person in a place of power is revealed to be a secret sadist, neo-Nazi, crook or serial killer beneath a respectable surface. Larsson, a radical journalist who devoted his career to battling right-wing extremism, and who died in 2004 at age 50 before any of his novels were published, has a mercilessly grim view of corporations, his country’s past and, in general, authority figures. Tempering that is a quixotic faith in the power of documentation — all it takes to vanquish a teeming substratum of corruption is exposure to the light of day in a feature in a magazine.

A final note — neither of the sequels “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” yet have U.S. distribution, possibly because of a planned American remake. Never mind — Music Box announced in late February that they’ll release the other two films in the trilogy this summer. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian is attached to work on the U.S. adaptation.

“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” will be released by Music Box Films on March 19th.

[Photos: “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” Music Box Films, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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