David Fincher, critically-acclaimed director of “The Social Network,” “Fight Club” and “Seven,” received high marks for his latest exhilarating thriller, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  The film is an adaptation of the internationally-bestselling book by the same title, written by Stieg Larsson.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist propelled by his considerable ethical convictions, is loved by some and abhorred by others for his unrelenting efforts against white-collar crime in Sweden.  But when he attempts to take on the suspicious financial dealings of businessman Hans-Erik Wennerström, things go horribly awry, and he finds himself with a libel conviction that effectively shatters his credibility within the Swedish media.  Defeated, both in court and in spirit, he is surprised to receive an unusual job offer from Vanger Industries CEO, Henrik Vanger. Vanger requests Blomkvist’s investigative skills to help solve the 40 year-old murder of his niece, Harriet.  In exchange, he promises to provide proof of Wennerström’s crooked financial dealings. Blomkvist accepts.

Meanwhile, the edgy 24 year-old Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is caught up in an array of personal dilemmas.  But she is not to be underestimated.   At first glance, one might only notice the array of piercings and tattoos with which Salander adorns herself, but as it happens, she’s also brilliant.  With a photographic memory and an uncanny ability to hack into the computer of just about anyone she pleases, her skill set lands her in the company of Blomkvist, who is busy investigating the Vanger mystery.  As the two delve deeper into the history of the unsolved crime, Blomkvist and Salander find themselves unraveling a dark and twisted string of disappearances, violence, and murder—and they’re caught right in the middle of the mayhem.

True to the book’s fast-paced and heart-pounding momentum, the film manages to remain engaging for the full two hour and thirty-seven minute duration.  Fincher effectively compresses and captures the thrills of the novel without sacrificing too much in the process.  As the second director to adapt the widely-renowned bestselling book to the screen (the first was Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev), Fincher faced a great deal of pressure both from fans of the Swedish film and fans of the novel.  For those who haven’t read the book, the first thirty minutes of the movie may feel a tad disjointed and rushed, as a great deal happens seemingly at once.  In this regard, those familiar with the book will likely have a higher understanding of the plot progression.  But by midway through, the movie has settled into a comfortable, albeit suspenseful, flow that all audience members can appreciate.

Lead actress Rooney Mara shines throughout the film in her role as Lisbeth Salander.  Prior to filming, Mara had previous work experience with director David Fincher in “The Social Network,” in which she played Mark Zuckerberg’s temporary girlfriend, Erica Albright.  In “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Mara assumes the remarkably different persona of a Goth-style computer hacker, demonstrating an impressive versatility in her acting abilities.  Though Salander is known for her terse, two-dimensional and straight-to-the-point remarks, Mara captures the true depth of Larsson’s character.

Actor Daniel Craig also offers an impressive performance, though his is somewhat dwarfed when compared alongside Mara’s.  The film features no unexpected or new tricks from Craig, known primarily for his role as James Bond in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace,” but the kind of character he’s famous for playing, he plays exceptionally well.  The role of Mikael Blomkvist called for an equal combination of intellectual finesse and an undeterred sense of daring fortitude—Craig was a perfect answer.

The opening credits feature a long surrealistic and artistic “tar and ooze of the subconscious,” as described by director David Fincher, all to a cover of Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song.”  “I think title sequences are an opportunity to sort of set the stage or to get people thinking in different terms than maybe whatever they understand the movie to be,” said Fincher in an interview on Cineblend.com.  Achieving this goal, Fincher shattered some preconceived expectations about what his film would be, giving it an artistic flare that no one else could.

Still, the film was by no means perfect.  Some attributes were lost within the fast pace of the dialogue, and it was at times difficult to keep up.  In addition, some of the darker elements of the story tended to be all-pervasive, with very little relief in between.  “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” leaves little to the imagination, adding to the realism, but detracting somewhat from the artistry.

All of the pieces manage to fall into place.  Take a masterful cast headed by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, a celebrated story by Stieg Larsson, and an incredibly well-written screenplay by Steven Zaillian, and all the instruments are in position.  David Fincher simply had to raise his hands and conduct.

4 stars