So, obviously, I can't tell you whether Noomi Rapace is a better Lisbeth Salander than Rooney Mara or how Daniel Craig stacks up against Michael Nyqvist. I can tell you that as a virgin to the story, this 2011 version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo completely drew me into Larsson's beautifully constructed, terrifying world.
After kicking things off with Bond-inspired opening credits, the action picks up with investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) at the center of a scandal following a libel suit brought on after publishing an expose on a Swedish tycoon. Forced to leave the magazine he works for as well as his boss/lover behind, Mikael is immediately contacted by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy industrialist who hires the now out-of-work reporter to investigate the disappearance and probable murder 40 years earlier of his great-niece, Harriet. When Henrik warns Mikael he'll be dealing with the most devious people he'll ever come across, he's not far off. Visiting the Vanger's enclave full of Nazis, drunks, and liars makes walking into a den of hungry lions seem like a quiet walk in the park in comparison.
Mikael is assisted in his pursuit of the truth by Lisbeth Salander (Mara), a pierced and tattooed rebel with a tongue as sharp as her Mohawk, a damaged young woman with the ability to hack into any computer system. Lisbeth's a genius with the computer, and she's utterly uncompromising and dogged in her pursuit of the truth at all costs once she commits to an investigation. And being able to track down a killer of women is something Lisbeth can absolutely sink her teeth into.
Together, Mikael and Lisbeth discover a link between Harriet's murder and a series of other murders of young women.
There's no trace of Bond in Daniel Craig's Blomkvist as he turns inward to tackle the part of this investigative reporter who sets out to solve a disappearance only to stumble onto the trail of a sadistic serial killer. Craig's great in the part, but completely disappears in any scene with Mara. Mara, best known prior to this role for playing Mark Zuckerberg's ex-girlfriend in the opening scenes of The Social Network (also directed by Fincher), is brilliant as the damaged, unstable Lisbeth. With every furtive glance, every carefully controlled movement of her body, Mara portrays Lisbeth's pain and rage. And during the film's disturbing, graphic rape scene (unfortunately, a necessary part of the plot that couldn't be removed), Mara breaks our hearts.
Mara and Craig are surrounded by a terrific supporting cast that includes Christopher Plummer as the billionaire ex-CEO of Vanger Industries, Robin Wright as Mikael's married boss who he's carrying on an affair with, and scene-stealing Stellan Skarsgard as the dangerous Martin Vanger.
The Bottom Line:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is violent and disturbing, a whodunit that holds you until the final moments of the film. Whether it will win over fans of the Swedish films is yet to be seen, but it won over this newbie to Stieg Larsson's work - and it cemented Rooney Mara as an up-and-coming talent to be reckoned with.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was directed by David Fincher and is rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.
Theatrical Release: December 21, 2011