A review of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," a Swedish movie version of the wildly popular novel by Stieg Larsson. It's a fine, brooding thriller, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

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Lisbeth Salander, thin as a knife, is 24 but at times looks 14, with hair “as short as a fuse” and a penchant for applying heavy makeup “in a colour scheme that indicated she might be colourblind.” That’s the description from Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and indeed that’s exactly how she looks in Niels Arden Oplev’s fine, brooding movie. Noomi Rapace, as Salander, moves tightly, as if she’s carrying something that just might break; she’s an investigator and a computer hacker who’s got her own dark secrets.

Pretty much everybody in this movie is carrying around a secret or two, and Oplev and screenwriters Nicolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg take their time revealing them; like the book, the film is long but moves swiftly, cutting between key scenes with a surgeon’s precision. A combination of violent thriller, taut procedural and psychological drama, it’s at heart the story of a missing woman.

Harriet Vanger, whom we see in a photo with a Mona Lisa smile, disappeared 40 years ago from a family gathering, never to be seen again. Was she murdered? Does she live? Her uncle (Sven-Bertil Taube) hires disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to investigate the case, and he’s soon joined by Salander, with the two forming a strange and unclassifiable bond. All this takes place in a remote Swedish village, where everyone knows everyone else, and the ice crunches menacingly beneath a visitor’s feet.

The film, a huge box-office hit in Europe, sticks closely to the book (though it does reveal an event from Salander’s past that’s actually in the sequel, “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and drastically trims a subplot involving a wealthy tycoon). And make no mistake: It’s at times horrifically violent, made no less tolerable even if we know (from the book) that the act will be avenged. I suspect the upcoming U.S. version of the film, which is not yet cast, may soften several key scenes, making it more palatable but perhaps less haunting. Rapace’s steely gaze stays with you when the movie’s over; a unique heroine who finds strength in fury.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com