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On Movies: Violent dramas translate well to the screen

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 9, 2010 - Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the girl with the dragon tattoo in the movie of the same name, enjoys a nano-second of Caribbean lassitude to begin "The Girl Who Played with Fire," the second film in the Millennium trilogy. Then she heads home to Sweden in full attack mode. Once again, evil men are trying to harm both her and crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), and she is determined to beat them to the punch.

Although not quite as shockingly violent as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Played with Fire," which involves an investigation of an international prostitution ring, has scenes of vicious brutality, mostly directed against women. Indeed, violence against women is the theme of the Millennium trilogy of books and films, and the original title of the first book was "Men Who Hate Women."

Among the men who fall into that category are Lisbeth's father, a nasty piece of Slavic work who still bears the deep scars of Lisbeth's childhood rebellion against his misogynist family regime. The action proceeds on several fronts, and the movie is bracing and dramatically satisfying, although it could be confusing if you haven't seen the first movie.

Fortunately, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is available on DVD and is showing (as of July 9) at the Hi-Pointe, and I would recommend watching it before tackling "The Girl Who Played with Fire." That will set you up for the third film in the trilogy, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," which should be along in a couple of months.

Opens Friday July 9 at the Plaza Frontenac

'The Killer Inside Me’

British director Michael Winterbottom ("9 Songs") generally remains faithful to the blacker-than-night vision of American novelist Jim Thompson in "The Killer Inside Me," the nasty-tempered story of a psychopathic deputy sheriff who manages to pass himself off as a really sweet fellow for longer than is perhaps totally believable. Casey Affleck does a good job in the lead role of Lou Ford, maintaining a calm, acquiescent demeanor and apparently sweet disposition right up to the moment he begins beating someone, usually a woman, to death with his fists and feet. (This seems to be the week for movies about violence against women.)

Although some of the characters and plot points are insufficiently explained - what is the nature of the labor union that people keep talking about? - Winterbottom keeps this cinematic vehicle moving at cruising speed through the parched Texas plains. "The Killer Inside Me" is mostly a solid and thought-provoking study of one of the most skin-crawly characters in pulp fiction, although Winterbottom does enjoy lingering on the thrashing of women's bottoms - hmmm - more than might be considered seemly.

The Texas music in the background is used to good effect, with one exception - toward the end, a man is running away from certain death, and Winterbottom cues up a comic banjo right out of "Bonnie and Clyde." Not funny, Michael. Jim Thompson wasn't kidding around.

Opens Friday July 9 at the Tivoli

Harper Barnes,  the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, has also been a long-time reviewer of movies.

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