For the many readers of Stieg Larsson's international best-seller "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," the American film version of the book will not disappoint in any way.
Those who haven't read the source material may leave the theater a little confused — but they, too, will be mesmerized by Rooney Mara's brilliant and seething portrayal of the story's unforgettable heroine, Lisbeth Salander.
Directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club"), "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is long but stylish, haunting and occasionally brutal. There's a change or two from the book, but it completely maintains the integrity of Larsson's story.
Daniel Craig co-stars as Mikael Blomkvist, a recently disgraced journalist who is enlisted by aging Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve a 40-year-old mystery: which wretched family member killed his beloved teenaged niece Harriet.
Reluctant to take the job at first, Blomkvist eventually hits upon a clue and follows the trail doggedly. Craig is convincingly nerded down from James Bond, playing Blomkvist with low-key ease and letting Mara steal the show.
For the first half of the movie, the two characters don't even share a scene together, and we follow their stories separately. Lisbeth, a waifish 24-year-old, is a pierced, tattooed, psychologically scarred cyberpunk. She's scary to look at, but she's also brilliant, possessing a photographic memory and unparalleled hacking skills.
As portrayed by Mara, Lisbeth is seemingly always in control but also stunningly vulnerable. She possesses a quiet rage — understandable considering her troubled past and her shocking and graphic treatment at the hands of her court-appointed guardian.
It's a ferocious and daring performance, easily one of the year's best — even better than the memorable performance by Noomi Rapace playing the same role in the Swedish version of the film.
Other notables in the cast include Stellan Skarsgard as Martin Vanger, Henrik's heir to the company, and Robin Wright as Erika Berger, Blomkvist's publisher and sometimes lover.
Once Blomkvist enlists Lisbeth as his assistant, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" really takes off. Though much of the investigation is poring through old files and pictures, Fincher keeps the story moving, and the oddball pairing of the two leads creates considerable sparks.
The mystery itself is solid but nothing extraordinary; there have been better whodunnits. It's the character of Lisbeth who raises the material to special. There haven't been many characters more memorable.
Rental Recommendation: Director David Fincher investigated a serial killer in "Zodiac." Grade: B+
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