This movie is more easily understood with its original Swedish title, which translates to “Men Who Hate Women”. The motif of men abusing women (I don’t think they give them enough thought to be able to hate them) recurs through this cold case mystery.
Despite headlining the movie, I didn’t feel we got enough of a sense of the eponymous heroine Lisbeth; despite all that happens to her, I found it difficult to empathise with the character. The male lead isn’t especially memorable (supposedly he shares too many traits with the author) – I didn’t realise that he was divorced until he stated it late in the movie, preceding hooking up with Lisbeth.
The heroine and the male lead actually spend a decent chunk of the movie before actually meeting each other; this causes the movie to take quite a while before it gets around to its central mystery. If not for the other two movies later in the pipeline, this first movie could be boiled down a lot more. The other aspects of the movie set up Lisbeth’s character and Mikael’s situation, presumably for the benefit of these sequels.
The storyline contains a few twists, and tends to dwell on the truly unsavory aspects of human nature. Some have tried to draw lessons about Swedish society from the story, and while I was surprised by the Swedish Nazism as well as the coexistence of Nazism and Christianity in this story, I think such endeavours don’t match the limited scope of the plot. The main case isn’t especially ingenious or unusual – it concerns a 40-year-old disappearance on a secluded island owned by a powerful feuding family; this is a standard setting (see Umineko no Naku Koro ni) that remains underutilised, no more than a backdrop in this film.
All up, I found The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be an enjoyable movie, though not as big a deal as many make it. I will try to see the sequels.