A finely executed drama whose plot is as much about the past as it is the present. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is never heavy-handed in its pathos about abuse through scant, spare flashbacks while the traumatizing, present day violence may take the viewer by surprise and call on an adjustment period in the more squeamish. Throughout the intermittent violence, three divergent – in most social situations – incompatible lives are brought together to solve the mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger (Julia Sporre), a riddle that has been in existence for decades.
As these mysteries are investigated by fresh eyes and modern technology, the immediate Vanger family around which industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) is surrounded is investigated as well, much to their discomfort and growing unease. There is more than one secret within this family, things they all wish to stay buried.
What you expect in the film comes first: the past is spoken of and the past is alluded to, establishing some motivations while keeping others a teasingly agonized-over secret. As the dangers of living in the Vanger’s past are delved into and exposed, fearful present day dangers begin making their presence more and more felt.
Events happen that can be projected to happen, events the viewer has seen before. It is what they do not expect, the new ground cultivated (depending upon the depth of the viewer’s movie lexicon) that shepherds the plot forward, a young soldier helping a battered warrior along a road bearing the moniker “satisfaction” and “gaiety”. Before you jump to a twisted, nefarious conclusion mingled with revulsion and a backward step: gaiety not at the proceedings but at how well they were handled and executed. The ordinary was given a fresh coat of paint in this film.
The main protagonist – or secondary protagonist depending upon your viewpoint – is 24-year old computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and is unlike most traditional Hollywood protagonists, one of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s primary strengths. What’s even better is that there is a reason for her appearance beyond an overture of visual theatrics, a deep psychological trauma for her existing within the dark fringe. Whenever she appears on screen, the viewer wonders what is going on in her head, how others will react to her, and what she’ll do next. She is unpredictable and intelligent, The Joker (if you take the allusion) of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Like the clown prince of Gotham City, she is extremely violent when provoked and can give as well as she receives.
The male protagonist is the film – investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), Dan Brown‘s Robert Langdon reincarnated – is affable, easily likable, the instant recipient of the audiences’ casual common interest (the ardent interest being bestowed upon Lisbeth Salander), a person the audience immediately roots for with no good reason to do so. In all fairness, Blomkvist does have more personality and more going for him than the blasé everyman shroud draped over his shoulder.
Plot-wise, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo goes from a basic thriller to an engrossing one, as I’m sure its source material does as well. It’s a good detective story where the answer to one question spurs into existence another question. Interlaced with this is the sordid and disturbing history of the Vanger family, creating a visual, verbal tapestry as finely conceived as Francis Dolarhyde’s past in Harris’ The Red Dragon.
What was brilliantly orchestrated in the film was the possible relationship between Salander and Blomkvist. I do not know if Salander’s traumas will allow for a stable relationship but its possibility certainly ameliorates the storyline. Her reactions to sexual encounters were very male-oriented, surprising, humorous to her partners and the audience.
Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a well-made thriller, bravely showing disagreeable subject matter and whose protagonist is more interesting than the complex mystery she and her would-be lover are investigating.