March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Rooney Mara is on fire in David Fincher's chilly adaptation of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'


Tuesday, Dec. 20 — Let’s start with the question everyone wants to ask: How does Rooney Mara compare to Noomi Rapace, the actress who became an international sensation in the trilogy of Swedish thrillers adapted from Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster novels?

Astonishingly, Mara finds some qualities in the brilliant, turbulent and deeply troubled Lisbeth Salander that even Rapace didn’t manage to unearth. Rapace’s Salander was a walking time bomb in black leather, full of fury and feistiness. Mara sees Salander as something closer to a hunted animal, not necessarily looking for confrontation, but possibly ferocious when cornered. Rapace had a vigilante spirit that gave her a scary, unsettling aura; Mara is a bit more circumspect, although no less tenacious: You get the sense she’s the kind of predator who sinks her teeth into her victim and hangs on until her prey collapses from exhaustion.

Director David Fincher doesn’t have as much luck when it comes to reinterpreting Larsson’s clever, complex shocker, which ties together disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, whose Swedish accent seems to fade away before the movie’s halfway point, although his performance otherwise remains thoroughly credible), computer queen Salander, a missing woman, Nazi sympathizers, religious fanaticism and a basement full of unsavory secrets. While Fincher’s film is slicker and more polished than director Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 adaptation — the credit sequence alone is almost worth the price of a ticket — it’s not stunningly different. Aside from the inclusion of extra sex scenes and an all-too-curious cat, most of Fincher’s version is a fairly straightforward retelling of Larsson’s now-familiar tale (although screenwriter Steve Zaillian does deliver one last-minute surprise).

The highlights of the material are retained and effectively enhanced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ volatile, tingly score, which combines ghostly piano, churning electronics and bursts of white noise. Fincher does not gloss over the brutality, which means that Salander’s repeated humiliations at the hands of a perverted “guardian” (Yorick van Wageningen) are horrifyingly vivid and stomach-churning.

Unfortunately, nothing can be done to save the awkward sequence in which the villain thoughtfully explains every detail of his sick scheme to a captured Blomkvist. It’s still like something out of a third-rate TV crime drama, and it looks even sillier in the midst of Fincher’s otherwise stylish and absorbing film.

Those who already know the story can focus on the movie’s mesmerizing contrasts between its stars, the weather-beaten, jagged-looking Craig and the deceptively delicate, almost bird-like Mara, with her wide, anxious eyes and a face that could have been fashioned by Modigliani. They’re a riveting pair.

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'
Preview screenings begin at 7 p.m. tonight at Celebration Cinema, NCG Eastwood Cinemas and Lansing Mall Cinema. Regular showings begin Wednesday.