“You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies, the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet. My family.” Should the detective take the case, this lies it all out. It’s a warning, though more importantly, it’s an invitation to investigate. Christopher Plummer could deliver the dialogue in either two of the murder mysteries he acts in. Both have him play the elder patriarch to a clan of scumbags. Among the Vangers or Thrombeys, some family members are worse than others. Should you pay a visit to any residence, it would make for a distressing time all around. The David Fincher adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel, bleak and intense, couldn’t be more different from Rian Johnson's satirical, colorful Knives Out movies. What they share in common, is where The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) turns into a dark cousin in crime.
The Scores of All the Movies Strive for the Same Effect
Setting is crucial. In the autumnal Knives Out, a labyrinthine mansion has a layout of secret rooms and a display of knives, a mix of real blades and plastic props. In the sunnier Glass Onion, a Greek island is fit with a dwelling of Bohemian, retro, and stupid rich aesthetics. Isolation links these locations, all to confine the murderer, suspects, and sleuths. In Dragon Tattoo, a cold wind whistles across the snowy Hedestad Island. It’s harsh, but so too is the world the story is set in. Winter isn’t thawing and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is not prepared for it upon arriving. He could definitely take pointers from over in the Thrombey estate; Ransom (Chris Evans) and his cable-knitted sweater.
Score-wise, composer Nathan Johnson uses an orchestra in Knives Out and Glass Onion for a mischievous tune, to whisk you away on an adventure. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross go for an ambiance of dread for Dragon Tattoo. Their piece, “She Reminds Me of You,” plays early on over a scene of Blomkvist traveling to Hedestad island. It’s haunting, but it isn’t frightening. It, too, pulls you in for a journey. There’s a sense of mystique attached to it. Ironically enough, the composers have described their work, Dragon Tattoo and Knives Out, and Glass Onion, respectively, as striving for the same effect. In a Rock NYC interview, Reznor went on to explain, “So you were hearing a lot of live, modular synthesizers creating a kind of icy or pulsing bed with something that feels very non-electronic, an organic and imperfect instrument played imperfectly, sitting on top of that.” Talking to Collider, Johnson said, “I had the string players just really digging in with their bows, so you can hear that scraping against the strings. It was really fun to take this classical orchestral approach, but also bend it a little bit and bring some of the tension and imperfection into that model.” The composers’ attention to “imperfect” sound is what is needed to intensify their score.
Christopher Plummer Plays Patriarchs to Horrendous Families
On the obvious connection, a mystery is tasked to be solved. Henrik Vanger (Plummer) personally invites disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist to take on the 40-year-old cold case of his missing niece. Whereas, the sudden, bloody passing of Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) brings in Craig’s Southern sleuth Benoit Blanc to start snooping. At first, each mystery is straightforward, nothing too convoluted. Did Harlan commit suicide? What happened to Harriet Vanger? The longer the investigation goes on, the mystery grows into a complex puzzle. The cozier tone to the Benoit Blanc mysteries doesn’t put Craig in the kind of danger he gets caught up in on Hedestad Island. Blomkvist is shot at and threatened with torture. That isn’t to exclude how grim the cold case itself ends up. Harriet’s disappearance is linked to a number of ritualistic murders with female victims, Bible verses getting twisted up for the M.O. of a killer. “If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast. Their blood shall be upon them.” It’s chilling. So, at least, the late, great Christopher Plummer is there to provide levity.
The Female Characters Are the Bigger Focus
He is superb as Henrik and Harlan, both characters with limited screen time. The two patriarchs have a wicked sense of humor. Henrik is drier, when he understands Blomkvist looks at him with suspicion, he responds back with a twinkle in his eye, “The man who hires the detective should always be kept on the suspects list.” Meanwhile, Harlan is far more jovial, muttering with mock wonder, “Why did I wait ‘til my mid-80s to become a morphine user? What a schmuck.” The two men, whether in life or in death, are the catalyst for a detective duo to propel the movie onward. Blanc is the anchor to the women who get the bigger focus, Marta (Ana de Armas) and Helen (Janelle Monáe). It’s very much like how Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) charges ahead. However, Lisbeth is subjected to horrific violence. While she does get revenge on one man in particular who assaults her, the graphic sexual assault is jarring. The ritualistic murders are only shown in crime scene photos. Lisbeth’s attack is one of the few unavoidable glimpses of horrific violence. However, like Marta and Helen, Lisbeth is instrumental in solving the mystery at hand and leading the story into a narrative curve ball.
A flashback reveals major revelations in Knives Out and Glass Onion. In the former, Marta initially appears as the most innocent out of all the suspects. She’s Harlan’s nurse and a close friend. But when she believes she gives the wrong dose of medication, there’s no question it will be fatal. Harlan devises an elaborate plan to provide Marta with an alibi. Helen is in her own unique predicament. An extended flashback takes up the latter half of Glass Onion. She poses as her deceased twin to find her sister’s killer. Unlike Marta, Helen isn’t able to prove the killer’s role in the end. She resolves to seek revenge in a whole different way. In Dragon Tattoo, the typical three-act structure is extended to five acts. The movie keeps on going after the central cold case is resolved, the true finale is how Lisbeth brings down a corrupt CEO, one who disgraced Blomkvist at the movie’s start. With a sleek wig and a wardrobe that she can’t wait to disregard, Lisbeth expertly brings about her own slice of justice.
Daniel Craig's Benoit Blanc and Michael Blomkvist Are Not That Similar
Where Blanc is theatrical, Blomkvist is a quieter performance from Craig as an investigator. While he looks into the disappearance of Henrik’s niece, we see the moment something clicks. His head shifts, his eyes slightly widen. It allows an intimate connection with the audience. Benoit Blanc’s approach is hidden, all to allow a dramatic reveal like a good, ol' whodunit. When Blomkvist pieces things together, the audience is truly with him on the ride. His platonic relationship with Lisbeth doesn't last. They sleep together, a mismatched couple with grisly murders keeping them attached. It’s not toxic, but it is messy. The reveal of Blanc as a gay man is a refreshing plot point to ensure he won’t be falling into bed with any of his female, mystery-solving partners in the next sequel.
The Knives Out Movies Have Greedy Misogynists, 'Dragon Tattoo' Has a Psychopath
With regards to the villains, Knives Out and Glass Onion doesn’t provide master criminals. Ransom (Chris Evans) and Miles (Edward Norton) are just greedy men who share a disdain for women. Women are their foil, and they have vicious reactions toward them. Harlan's Clue-like mansion is in contrast to Miles’ glass onion dome of a home. What you see is what you get. Blanc explains what a potential murder attempt on his life could be like, saying “You’ve taken seven people, each of whom has a real-life reason to wish you harm, gathered them together on a remote island and placed the idea of murder in their heads. It’s like putting a loaded gun on the table and turning off the lights!” Miles sits back, thinks for a second, figures Blanc hasn’t put a copyright on the idea and uses it, nearly verbatim. In Dragon Tattoo, the glass house is there, but the context is all different. Martin’s residence has no true personality, it’s all sterile and empty. The one room that exhibits Martin’s (Stellan Skarsgård) true colors is the locked basement. A small section of tile floors makes it easy to clean up the blood. He washes his bloody hands downstairs, so he can pour himself a clean glass of wine upstairs. This is the kind of awful man he is.
Social Commentary Among the Crime Scene
“One thing the Vangers have more than their fair share of is anti-semites,” Blomkvist tells Lisbeth at one point. Henrik’s family has a deep closet of skeletons wearing the SS uniform, some with pride, others keeping the door locked up for good. The Thrombeys don’t have anything of the sort but they do have family members with ignorant beliefs. Blanc still can't help but deliver the remark: “What were the words overheard by the Nazi child masturbatin' in the bathroom?” The darkness to these families differs for sure. The Vangers, minus Henrik, are as icy as winter. You wouldn’t be seeing someone like Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette), off in her own little world, dancing to Roxy’s “More Than This.” But they share bigotry. Put a Thrombey in a room, they will give a different South American country as to where Marta’s family is really from. They all claim she’s a part of the family, yet know so little about her. Marta’s dilemma extends beyond ignorance though. Her undocumented mother is in danger of deportation should Marta be found guilty of killing Harlan. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, immigrant women and the threats they face are major themes. The thriller criticizes how society can overlook what happens to them. They can be deemed unworthy of attention, while someone as elite as Martin is a wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing.
Rian Johnson’s mysteries end with a hearty plate of closure. We know who did it, they are apprehended, or they will surely receive a downfall. Dragon Tattoo isn’t about ending things neat and tidy. Lisbeth prepares to gift Blomkvist with a beautiful leather jacket. But she spots him walking off with the woman he was always going to be getting back to. They don’t have a cold case to stay close over. She heads out into the night, the darkness fading right into the black screen as the credits roll. All the ways this thriller and two modern whodunits compare and contrast create a fascinating viewing experience. There's an option for something darker or lighter. In the mystery genre, Daniel Craig is a man with an exceptional resume. He solves a mystery in New England, Greece, and Sweden. If you want to watch him solve a murder with a masterful actress, which will you pick?