REVIEW: 'Dragon Tattoo' a Lean, Mean Frightening Beast

Sometimes a director and a film are a divine match. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is the even rarer case of a divine match happening twice.

David Fincher directs the American film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s best selling novel, following in the footsteps of Swedish director Niels Arden Opley's critically acclaimed 2009 version of the same. And if any current American director knows how to tell stories involving crime, mystery, human grotesques, and seriously damaged characters, it is Fincher, who worked with similar subject matter in his previous films “Seven” and “Fight Club."

The nearly three-hour "Dragon Tattoo" doesn't feel anywhere near that long. Steve Zaillian’s script trims some the novel’s fat, keeping the film a lean, mean and frightening beast. Fincher and Zaillian stay true to the source material, and their presentation is similar to Opley's, whose film does, albeit, have more of a matte finish compared to Fincher’s glossy sheen.

Fincher’s cast delivers similarly frigid performances, all creating the stark Swedish world Larsson created in his books (there are two more to his "Millennium" trilogy). Daniel Craig plays disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist who is hired by a Swedish industrial titan Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate his family – all whom have nasty secrets of their own – and solve a 40 year-old murder mystery.

The true star is Lisbeth Salander, strikingly played by relative newcomer Rooney Mara. Mikael recruits the troubled computer hacker to assist in his investigation. Mara presents Lisbeth as damaged, scarred, and an erroneous glance away from a psychotic break. Within Mara’s first seconds on screen one is consumed by her frightening world. Still, however dark the film and character gets, Mara brings a sliver of sharp, subtle humor to the role. Despite her deathly exterior, she slices through some of the heavy material and breathes a bit of warmth into the film, essential to its success.

Where “Dragon” falters is managing the film's other storylines. In the book, Mikael also flails in a love triangle and a game of corporate espionage. Like in the Swedish film, those stories feel tacked on.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is as excellent as its Swedish counterpart, and is a welcome home of sorts for Fincher, whose most recent film "The Social Network" -- the story of how Facebook came about -- took him away from this more familiar, dark territory.