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Films: the girl with the dragon tattoo * * *

(thriller. Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Lena Endre, Peter Haber. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev. cert 18)

The worldwide publishing success of the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy was bound to attract the interest of the movie industry which could obviously see the attraction of a readymade audience and no less than three completed works to pitch to them.

However, while Hollywood dithered somewhat, those smart people in Larsson's native Sweden were first out of the blocks and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of the series, all of which we'll get to see before the end of the year.

The movie is a rather odd beast, as while it's beautifully shot, intriguing and boasts some fine acting it never really feels like a fully formed film. At times there are two separate stories running side-by-side, with investigative journalist Michael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) facing jail on a libel charge and taking on the job of finding the niece of a wealthy industrialist, who disappeared 40 years previously.

Simultaneously we have our troubled heroine Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a punky computer hacker who's assigned to search into Blomkvist's life while at the same time dealing with the creepy advances of her probation officer.

The pair eventually meet up and while the investigation strand rolls along nicely the probation officer scenario leads to a couple of shocking scenes which throw the tone of the film off kilter and which many viewers will find extremely distressing.

Rapace's Lisbeth boasts an undeniable screen allure and she'll definitely feature in the remaining two movies, but it's hard to know whether Dragon Tattoo would have worked better as a three or four-part TV drama rather than a 152-minute film, which would have allowed director Niels Arden Oplev a slightly more leisurely pace and wouldn't have necessitated the rather rushed wrapping up of all the plot strands in the final 15 minutes. For all that though this is an extremely solid affair -- but be warned that it doesn't come with an 18 cert for no good reason. HHHII - GB