Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is an investigative journalist whose work has turned around and bitten him when the Milennium group which he has published an expose about took him to court, and all his evidence came up short. Even though he knew he was essentially correct, he could not prove his findings, and is now facing a few months in jail, but before he does and he waits for the appeal to be considered, Mikael is offered a job by a member of an extremely wealthy family who recognises his skills and wishes him to turn detective for him...
The Stieg Larsson novels were a worldwide sensation, drawing even those who did not ordinarily read crime fiction into their orbit, and the fact that the author had died in possibly suspicious circumstances that may have been related to his day job as, yes, a crusading journalist much like the Mikael character only added to the intirgue. It was clear from his fiction he had little love for the better off members of society who used their power and influence to evil purposes, and in this, the first adaptation of his work, that was a central theme. Just because you could buy most of the population of the planet did not mean you could behave outside the law.
Not that our society's multi-millionaires actually got up to the sort of stuff that they do here, or you would hope not, but for every high-earning company boss who abused their position, efforts such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo could be viewed as Larsson putting them in their place, however over the top this got. As to that girl of the title, she was Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace in a star-making turn), fighting entrenched misogyny as a researcher not above using more underhand methods than Mikael does, and they are destined to join forces by and by as her computer talents and his keen intellect seek to uncover the truth behind what happened to one of the Vanger family's daughters.
That truth is a despicable one, though there manages to be a note of hope for the future struck by the end which suggests that no matter how long you wait, you will get the answers to those pressing questions of your life and all those puzzle pieces would finally come together as the big picture. Not all the Vangers are wicked, but as Mikael discovers pretty much most of them are, with some fervent Nazis and others getting up to sexual depravity and worse. The trouble with this being that for the most part, you expect these people to be awful and up to no good, leaving you with few real surprises, only revelations born of loads and loads of scenes featuring research conducted.
So if it was not for the brief bursts of violence, much of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might as well have taken place in a library and try as he might director Niels Arden Oplev failed to make much cinematic gold out of his material. What it ends up resembling is a feature length compilation of one of those popular but gloomy Scandinavian mystery television series of the kind inspired by the success of likes of Larsson's books, and even the brutality is not as outrageous as it could have been - not that it is tastefully shot or anything, but such is the muted and conspiratorial nature of the story that any points designed to have the audience jump in their seat were somewhat lost in those acres of exposition. On the plus side, Nyqvist and Rapace made for a winning team, the latter suggesting hidden depths as the message that we all have secrets particularly applies to Lisbeth, but when it came down to it this was simply neatly filmed but rather bland for all its would-be shock. Music by Jacob Groth.