Early in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is introduced as a brilliant investigator. A consultant at a prestigious security firm, she turns routine background checks into exposes of corruption and depravity. She may be seriously anti-social, but she’s a whiz with a computer and fiercely tenacious when she finds a subject that interests her. Throw in her mysterious past and take-no-shit attitude, and the reader (or viewer) is quickly faced with a troubling question: Why should anyone care about Mikael Blomkvist?
(Amusing anecdote: I had to look up what his name was to write that sentence.)
Blomkvist, of course, is a crusading left-wing journalist in a book written by a crusading left-wing journalist, so that at least explains his presence in the story. But he only ever seems to serve two purposes in the book:
- He reminds the audience it’s important to be ethical;
- Women want to have sex with him.
Blomkvist is a public figure known for his tenacious honesty, so it makes a certain amount of sense for aged millionaire Henrik Vanger to hire him to investigate a decades-old family mystery. But Blomkvist’s investigation seems to consist mostly of reading old family documents and having sex with a local woman. After a while, he takes a break, imports his old lover, and has sex with her. Then he reads more books.
While this is happening, Salander is plotting revenge and blackmail against her sadistic court-appointed guardian. She’s unpredictable, dangerous, and capable of fucking people up on multiple levels. Needless to say, it’s a more interesting storyline than anything Blomkvist is doing, and I gave up on the book while waiting for the interesting parts to grow inprominence. I tried the movie in hopes of getting to the point more quickly. But while the film streamlines Blomkvist’s research and lowers the number of women he has sex with, he’s still a terribly dull character.
Salander, on the other hand, remains fascinating. Noomi Rapace fits your expectations of the character perfectly,
balancing rage and intelligence with fear and insecurity. It could be a riveting performance, if there was anything else in the movie to anchor it to. Salander continues to decode clues, solve mysteries, and kick ass while everyone else sits around waiting for the plot to advance.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is tremendously frustrating in either medium. Stieg Larsson created a fantastic character – and was, in turn, blessed by a great actress – but failed to surround her with anything else worth paying attention to. Readers and viewers spend a bit of time entranced by Salander’s story, then wait far too long for her to come back and make things interesting again.