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Layer Cake 

This thriller keeps piling on nuance in a tale of the best way to serve up justice.

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The first in a trilogy of Swedish films about the relationship between magazine journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander shows us what tense, nail-biting storytelling is all about. It’s two and a half hours long, but seems to fly by in about half that time. Anyone wanting to create a college course called “Thrillers 101” could build the curriculum around this movie.

Micke (Michael Nyqvist) has been uncovering stories about corruption for a long time, but he’s now caught up in the wrong end of a libel suit, and he’s going to jail. Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) does research work at a security firm, and is referred to by her boss as “a pretty odd girl.”

Micke, wearing a look of determination, and Lisbeth, sporting a scowl, don’t know each other, but since she’s been assigned to check his background, they share one thing in common: Both believe that Micke has been framed.

Then Micke’s phone rings. Old Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), living among a scattering of his wealthy, unlikable relatives on the fictional Hedeby Island, asks Micke to investigate the disappearance of his 16-year-old niece, Harriet – some 40 years ago. He’s picked the confounded Micke because “You’re good, and you don’t have to report to jail for six months.”

Meanwhile, Lisbeth is given a new probation officer – a mean fellow who asks inappropriate questions while touching her wherever and whenever he feels like it, holding a return to jail over her head if she complains.

What results here is a confluence of four separate stories about four separate people. Micke’s new gig on Henrik’s payroll has him searching for clues through photos, reminiscent of David Hemmings’ character in Blow-Up. Lisbeth, all done up in black leather and piercings, proves to be someone you don’t want to mess with ... especially if you’re a nasty probation officer.

Henrik needs closure on a long-festering mystery. And then there’s Harriet, about whom all we know is that she looks really scared in an old picture, and that maybe it was the photographer that put the fright in her.

This is a film that expertly keeps piling on layers of stories and characters. It flashes back for what might be important information on Micke. It latches on to the thrill of the chase as researchers come closer to finding answers. It lets us get to know people, then throws a curve or two, revealing whole different sides of them.

And for good measure, there are helpings of religion, casual nudity, and Nazis. In the end, it’s about justice.

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