As he begins to investigate the case, Mikael learns that he himself has been researched before taking the assignment by Lisbeth Salander (Mara), a surveillance agent/hacker able to find almost anything she needs. If there’s dirt on someone, Lisbeth can unearth it.

With a photographic memory to boot, she is ideal to help Mikael with the case.  Warmth, though, is not her specialty – nor is socializing. After a very troubled life as a teenager, she has a legal guardian who looks after and controls her, but she is not happy with that situation.

At first the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth is purely professional, almost uneasy, but they begin sleeping together. It’s not a seduction – Lisbeth basically stands before her colleague, undresses and goes after what she wants/needs.

Some are apt to criticize Fincher for taking on this project, since the original film is widely acknowledged as being true to the nature of the books. What makes him an ideal choice is that he is not afraid to take chances and go down corridors some filmmakers wouldn’t. He doesn’t rush the material – nor does he tone down the film’s darker moments. The rape scene, for instance, between Lisbeth and her guardian is graphic but vital to the story. It’s hard to watch, as is her revenge.

The Vanger family is played by some awfully formidable actors – including Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, and Joely Richardson — and Robin Wright portrays Mikael’s wife/editor, a role not fleshed out in the original film.

For his part, Craig gives Mikael just the right blend of remorse and inquisitive nature; he’s a man out to redeem himself and find the truth. But the actor generously realizes this is his co-star’s movie.

Fincher apparently had to fight hard to get Mara in the film in favor of more prominent names. His decision was a wise one. The actress, who appeared in the director’s “The Social Network,” is new to audiences, which is part of her appeal. It’s hard to take your eyes off of her.

If Rapace’s Lisbeth was more well-rounded and vulnerable underneath, Mara is a hard shell – rambunctious, uncouth, used to getting what she wants and sometimes having to go to extremes to do so. It’s not a sound idea to cross her.

Her bisexuality is never in question. Lisbeth picks up a girl in a bar and has a one nighter with her just before she joins Mikael on the case.  Her guardian, too, seems to be aware that she digs women.  (As with the original films, Lisbeth’s sexuality is expected to be examined further as the trilogy goes further).

After the whodunit is solved, “Dragon Tattoo” goes on for about 20 minutes more. It feels anti-climactic and overloaded, even if Fincher’s ending is different from the original film. Yet it’s still a tremendously well-done feature for those willing to take the unsettling ride. The Swedish version may be a touch better, but both can proudly stand on their own.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is now playing in area theaters.

 

Top photo: Rooney Mara stars as Lisbeth in ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.’ (Publicity photo)

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