I was not familiar with anything regarding this hyped Swedish thriller before I saw the film. I had no knowledge of the Stieg Larsson (who unfortunately passed away in 2004) trilogy that represents the source material, nor did I know any of the actors on-screen. I'm not sure if this ignorance contributed to the experience I had, but I can say with supreme confidence that Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo blew me away. This is a 152-minute thriller that feels 30 minutes shorter. It is a riveting, powerful film.

Noomi Rapace brilliantly portrays the title character, a 24-year-old ex-con named Lisbeth Salander who makes her living hacking into computers. She smokes when she isn't typing. Sporting tattoos and piercings from head to toe, she has recently been asked to track Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative journalist who is sentenced to three months in prison after the source of his harsh allegations against a corrupt Swedish businessman is proven to be uncredible. Lisbeth, believing Mikael to be innocent, takes a very personal interest in the case.

Mikael is granted six months of down time before he must serve his sentence, and he is almost immediately approached by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube). 40 years earlier, Henrik's 16-year-old niece Harriet (Ewa Fröling) inexplicably disappeared, and the case has remained unsolved in the years since. Henrik, having become completely obsessed with the mystery, and suspecting murder, hires Mikael, a man he has the utmost respect for, to take his best shot as solving the case. An originally unwilling Mikael eventually agrees after he learns of the offer's enormous salary.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth has gotten into a terrible street fight and damaged her computer. Desperately needing a new one to perform her job, she enlists the help of her parole officer, only to find out that she has received a new one. Her new guardian, unfortunately, turns out to be a sadist, and a brutal one at that. Under the pressure of maintaining a good parole record, Lisbeth is initially forced to perform unspeakable actions upon the new officer in order to obtain the money for her computer. But she is smarter than she looks, and this torture (thankfully) doesn't last too long.

By repeatedly hacking into Mikael's computer, Lisbeth is able to keep up-to-date with the Vanger case, and she begins to get caught up in it herself. There comes a point in the investigation where Mikael gets stuck. In turn, Lisbeth sends him a helpful e-mail, which eventually blossoms into an effective collaboration. The two meet, become unlikely friends, and use their mutual intelligence to crack this disturbing case that covers everything from Nazis to incest.

Nyqvist and Rapace, the two lead actors, make an easily memorable crime duo. In real life, they are nineteen years apart, and in the film, it is about the same. They remain, however, an attractive and engaging team. They are smart enough to believably make ground on this ostensibly unsolvable mystery, and charismatic and emotional enough to evoke feelings from the audience. We are emotionally and intellectually involved throughout.

Rapace's character is a puzzling one, and she remains fascinating even without giving away every event from her past. We do not learn many details (at least in this installment) about Lisbeth's obviously disturbed childhood, but we see the pain in Rapace's eyes. This is a fierce, independent character, one who has all but given up hope on love. In Mikael, we see a inherently decent man, someone who would be a good protector of Lisbeth. But her reservations make this appealing relationship a challenging one.

David Fincher has reportedly been attached to the American remake. This filmmaker, one of the living masters of the crime genre (Seven and Zodiac are two of the best I've seen), has quite a task ahead of him. Casting the role of Lisbeth Salander is one of the key elements. Rumors have it that Kristen Stewart, who deftly portrayed Joan Jett in The Runaways, could potentially be cast. However, there is reason why Oplev chose the 30-year-old Rapace to tackle this role: It is brutal and demanding, and asking a woman in her late teens/early twenties appear in some of these situations would be a very risky thing to do.

As far as recent entires in the mystery-thriller category are concerned, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is among the cream of the crop. A good movie in this genre would end when the characters identify the killer. A great one, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has much more substance to it. Some may wonder why Oplev and screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg have created such an extensive picture in a usually quick, speedily-paced genre. Well, as engrossing as the 40-year-old investigation is, this film is about the characters first.

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