David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shouldn’t be seen as a remake of the recent Swedish film, but rather as a reinterpretation of the source book. Either way Fincher crafts a film that’s equal, if not slightly better than, it’s predecessor.

Those expecting a radical departure from Stieg Larsson’s global hit will be surprised by how faithful Fincher and writer Steve Zaillian are to the book. Of course there are small changes to allow a better flow (as there were in Niels Arden Oplev’s version), but the film feels, overall, the way that Larsson’s book reads. Like last year’s The Social Network, the cinematography is both terse and lush, taking in all of characters’ surroundings while focusing squarely on who’s on screen. Fincher crafts a pseudo-thriller whose time slowly ticks and the tension unknowingly rises. Each scene builds slowly upon the first until it finally explodes into a glorious finale and with a sort-of-epilogue that feels like anything but tacked on.

The film begins with two distinct stories, that of Lisbeth Salander and, separately, Mikael Blomkvist’s (Daniel Craig), both of whom couldn’t seem more different. But the more you get to know them you begin to realize that they’re both in situations out of their control and which, true or not, they both feel has been thrust upon them unfairly. After Blomkvist takes a job with the elderly Henry Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve the 40-year old murder of his niece Harriet, Salander and Blomkvist cross paths. A lot happens in two and a half hours, but it’s constantly moving forward. It moves at a brisk speed and there’s never a lull.

What Fincher has created is something that feels familiar (for those that have read the books and/or seen the Swedish films) but also completely original. In addition to Mara and Craig, is cast is otherwise impeccable with Robin Wright embodying Erika Berger. Christopher Plumber is also surprisingly fantastic as the elderly Henrik Vangar, turning in his second perfect performance of the year following Beginners.

Of course, the big question is how does relative newcomer Rooney Mara handle the iconic Lisbeth Salander? Quite surprisingly, Mara handles the role with aplomb. She certainly doesn’t surpass Noomi Rapace who completely lost herself in the role in a way that few actors can, but Mara is up to the task. Whereas Rapace’s Salander was wound tight, ready to burst at any moment, Mara’s Salander comes off as more frustrated than angry and more approachable than Rapace.

Mara and Craig worth well off each other with some of Bond finding it’s way into his character (even the accent). They have a chemistry that feels tenable yet casual. Depending on how this film does, Fincher could complete the Millennium trilogy. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with the following two films, and so far he’s off to a great start.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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