"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," based on the first chapter of Swedish author Stieg Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy," offers a scathing condemnation of both capitalism and statism, an intelligent look at the nature of memory, and a toe-curling exploration of the horrors visited upon children by their parents. Fortunately, it comes packaged in the guise of a gripping thriller.
The film opens with Mikael Blomkvist (Mikael Nyqvist), a nationally-known investigative journalist being sentenced to jail. Luckily, he has six months before he has to serve his time, leaving him plenty of time to be contacted by Henrik Vanger, a wealthy industrialist, who wants him to look into the mysterious disappearance some 40 years ago of his then 16-year-old niece.
Before hiring Blomkvist, Vanger hired Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace -- who at times bears an uncanny resemblance to Kelly Leak), a 24-year-old, heavily pierced and tattooed woman to do an extensive background check on him. When it becomes clear to Lisbeth what Mikael has been hired to do, she is drawn to the case for her own reasons, and soon insinuates herself.
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Where Mikael is an old-school shoe-leather journalist, Lisbeth is a digital whiz -- a master hacker and tech geek -- with a photographic memory. Throughout the film, both get to flex their chops, but the film mercifully spares us any tired "get-off-my-lawn!" Ludditism or some such culture clash.
The film takes a long hard look at the squishiness of memory. Blurry, photos, mistaken identities, memories both faulty and all too good... and particularly the ephemeral nature of computer drives vs. the tedium of hard copies. As with the differences between our protagonists, these are not pitted against one another, rather their comparative values are celebrated.
Stieg Larrsson was a career journalist himself who wrote this trilogy at night for fun. He was also a devout communist, making his narrative's attacks on the state/parents all the more jarring. Throughout the film's 40-year arc, the government fails most everyone -- crimes go unsolved, bad guys go free, good guys go to jail and one of the film's darkest monsters -- and there is no shortage of monsters -- is a state official.
The film's only real weakness are the mountains of table-setting and -clearing that are done in the name of preparing the viewer not just for this story, but the next too chapters. It makes for a slightly overlong movie that offers a good 20 or so minutes that have little to do with the story at the heart of the film. The benefit of the doubt is warranted however, because the payoff will presumably arrive on our shores soon enough.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tatto" is a haunting, Agatha Christie-esque whodunit that leaves you more than ready for "The Girl Who Played With Fire."