“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is sharp and insightful

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Courtesy of Sony Pictures

“What is hidden in snow comes forth in the thaw.”

Mikael Blomkvist is stuck in a rut. He’s recovering from losing a case that drained him of his money and once-respected journalistic status. He enjoys a healthy relationship with his teenage daughter Pernilla, but his ex-wife hates him after finding out of his long-standing affair with his magazine partner Erika.

The one who knows this, as well as other things not exactly “on the record,” is young Lisbeth Salander, a talented hacker who has a penchant for punk style and a scornful attitude. She researches Blomkvist for a background check, making sure he’s the right person for solving a 40-year-old question: who killed Harriet Vanger? As the two go deeper into a dusty web of lies, misogyny, and murder, long-buried secrets within the Vanger clan are revealed. This isn’t your typical family reunion.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is the 2011 American adaptation based on the Swedish novel of the same name. While there are three sequels to the first book, this film tries to stand on its own, with a conclusive plot, character arcs, and explored topics. One underlying theme throughout the plot concerns gender dynamics in Sweden, particularly misogyny; the original title of the Swedish book was the more aptly-named “Men Who Hate Women,” which for obvious reasons was dropped during its translation.

What is perhaps the best part of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is how surprisingly it detracts from the typical hard-boiled detective tropes. As with most of these works, the lead character is stoic and shut off from society… and also a blank slate for the audience to project themselves onto. “Tattoo,” on the other hand, seems to play this straight up until the plot dives into the personality and methods of Salander, exploring the reasons for actions and why she has become the person she is today.

Boosting this notably in-depth character analysis is Rooney Mara’s equally exceptional performance, which later earned her a well-deserved Oscar nod. While the actor portraying Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) does little to hide his English dialect, Mara immerses herself in the character, with a convincing Swedish accent and- of course- lots and lots of piercings. Having a director like David Fincher, of “Fight Club” and “Gone Girl” fame, working behind the scenes also helps greatly.

At first glance, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a detective story. On the inside, however, the film is a bleak character study that works on many levels, taking an otherwise typical archetype to new heights of development and personality.

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