If you're one of the millions of people who've read Stieg Larsson's novel or seen the original screen adaptation, then you know the story. I hadn't done either of those things, so it was all new to me. Here's the gist: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a disgraced journalist in Stockholm, is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the head of a rich family, to investigate what happened to his granddaughter 40 years earlier. Needing help, Mikael eventually hires a young female hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who, unbeknownst to him, conducted a background check on Mikael before he was hired for the job, and has a thing for getting back at those who've crossed her.
It's a cool story, featuring some interesting characters, a terrific screenplay by Steven Zaillian (his second great adaptation this year, the other being Moneyball), another strong score by Reznor and Ross, and expert direction by Fincher, who gives the whole thing a sense of menace that preys on the audience's worst instincts. Yes, the movie is graphic at parts, but you won't be able to look away for a second. For that, credit Fincher, but also give kudos to Craig, Plummer, and, as another member of the Vanger family, Stellan Skarsgard, all of whom give very good — and in the case of Skarsgard, creepy — performances.
And then there's Mara (last seen as Mark Zuckerberg's ex-girlfriend in The Social Network), who makes a real bad ass, kick ass heroine. She's a walking contradiction — her look is a cry for attention, but her demeanor says "Stay away" — and Mara just disappears into this role, investing all of herself in it. She's awesome.
And yet, as great and gripping as it is, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is held back by its own source material. [SPOILER ALERT] The film seems to have three different endings, making it feel about 20 minutes too long, but even worse, the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth goes to a place I just didn't buy. I get that the two would become allies and friends, and that she might develop a strong loyalty to him, but the fact that they would start sleeping together is unbelievable to me. And that took me out of the story a bit. [END SPOILERS]
For most other movies, those problems would derail my enjoyment. But most other movies aren't as well made as this one. And when the lights went up, all I wanted to do was see more. The second part of the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, can't come out soon enough. I'm giving this film a B+.