Stieg Larsson's novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a brilliant, brutal, and popular mystery. It makes sense that the American film adaption would be directed by David Fincher, whose work includes Seven, Fight Club and The Social Network. This film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo loses none of the tough hits of the original book -- though some of the changes lessen the final impact.

The film follows the format of the book closely. In Sweden, financial reporter and publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just been convicted of libel against businessman Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg), resulting in his reputation and finances being ruined. At the same time, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is an asocial, possibly insane punk -- who's a brilliant researcher and hacker -- who prepared a background check on Mikael. This leads both of them to the Vanger family.

Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) is the elderly patriarch of the declining, but still powerful, Vanger industrial organization; he hates most of his family, yet lives with most of them on their private island. Forty years ago, during the Vanger family board and family meeting, an accident completely blocked the bridge that is the only way onto and from the island. At about the same time, Henrik's beloved niece Harriet (Moa Garpendal) vanished. No body was found, nor was any sign she was still alive. Henrik was obsessed with her disappearance, and he is convinced someone in his family killed her during the accident and snuck her body away. In addition, someone has sent Henrik a pressed flower in glass every year on his birthday -- something Harriet did before she disappeared. So Henrik hires Mikael to live on the island, ostensibly writing the history of the Vanger family but actually investigating what happened to Harriet. If Mikael can solve the case, he'll get twice as much money as if he doesn't; he'll also get the evidence proving Wennerstrom is corrupt.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth has do deal with a truly disgusting lawyer who controls her money, as well as her personal demons. She eventually gets drawn into the Harriet case, as a research assistant for Mikael. They find the Vanger family is truly corrupt -- from the greedy to a former Nazi -- and the case goes well beyond what happened to Harriet.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a solid adaption of a mystery that began forty years ago and has a firm impoct on the present. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are both very good as the leads, two very different types of people who actually mesh well together, both personally and professionally. Fincher does a good job creating an atmosphere of degeneracy, whether in Lisbeth's life in the city or in the isolated Vanger homes. While the movie is pretty faithful to the novel, some of the changes weaken the story somewhat (like an image in the window in Harriet's room on the day she vanished; that is forgotten about quickly), and the final revelation is blunted by an unnecessary foreshadow. There's also an unfomfortable juxtaposition of erotic nudity in the latter part of the movie with some brutal sexuality in the former part. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is flawed, but it is also intense and entertaining.

Overall grade: B

Reviewed by James Lynch

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