*The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
The main draw of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher edition, is that we want to see what this director will do with it. Although we can sort of guess that the crucial thing he'll do is make a shitload of money.
It's not even three years since the first book in Stieg Larsson's posthumously published, sensation-spawning "Millennium Trilogy" became a Swedish film, but getting over our remake gag-reflex somehow seems easier when the remaker in question is a luxe stylist of serial-killer thrillers. Here, Fincher's supremely slick opening-credits sequence does at least suggest a new way to see this: not as merely another unnecessary English-language effigy of European box-office success, but rather as some kind of radical nouveau Bond flick, complete with Daniel Craig.
It's no disgrace to the original Swedish version, for whatever that's worth. We didn't need salacious posters or propulsive trailers to detect that Dragon Tattoo was right up the dark alley of the maker of Se7en and Zodiac. The whole setup suits his pervy predilections all too well: In an atmosphere foul with family secrets, sexual violence and murder, a dubiously disgraced journalist (Craig) and a disturbed computer hacker (Rooney Mara) form an unlikely crime-solving alliance. The mood is by turns brooding and cheeky, the method technically exacting, the temperature not warm.
It begins with the journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, summoned to the private island of wealthy Swedish industrialists. Their reigning patriarch, played by Christopher Plummer, has commissioned a biography of himself, but really, he wants to investigate the presumed murder of a beloved niece several decades ago. He summarizes the rest of the family as "the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet."
Meanwhile, the girl, Lisbeth Salander, is not a girl; she's a woman. It is worth pointing out (again) that the original title of Larsson's book was Men Who Hate Women, and that the movie-titling modification has not exactly struck a blow against misogyny.
Also, Lisbeth Salander is a mystery. She seems rather lean and lithe for someone who apparently subsists only on Happy Meals, but as she explains, she's lucky enough to have a high metabolism. Otherwise: less lucky. Somehow we infer her family to be a collection nearly as detestable as the tycoon's, and in any case she is now a ward of the state, whose caseworker also is her rapist.
She becomes Blomkvist's assistant, then his lover, even though he already has a lover played by Robin Wright, but that doesn't much matter, just as it doesn't much matter that Wright troubles herself to affect a Swedish accent and Craig doesn't.
What matters is that Salander proves a tech-savvy forensic investigator, and also an effectual vengeance dispenser. Making good on its "Evil Shall With Evil Be Expelled" tagline, the movie works briskly through its sadistic cycle of brutal violence, a very dark space in which actors lurk and give off glints of their charisma.
Fincher's faith in Mara has been clear since he cast her as the decisively dissatisfied girlfriend who set The Social Network in motion. Maybe Facebook will decide how her pixie-punk credentials compare with those of her Dragon Tattoo predecessor Noomi Rapace — recently graduated, alas, to window-dressing Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
Not all men hate women. But some could learn to love them more.