12/23/2011 10:27 EST | Updated 02/20/2012 05:12 EST

Review: <i>The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo</i>


The epitome of cinematic coolness.

If there is one film that the cool cats were dying to see this season, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would be it.

The highly anticipated on-screen adaptation of the first of the Swedish trilogy by Stieg Larsson, has undoubtedly captured the imagination of the global litterati.

I am probably one of the last remaining handfuls on the planet that hasn't read any of the Larsson releases (or seen the Swedish cinematic version). Which in my opinion makes me the perfect candidate to judge the film on its own merits, independent of the published counterpart.

I walked in, armed with limited knowledge (outside of the breathless mentions of "You've got to read this book" that followed me all summer), into the dark theatre ready to escape into the brillant directorial brain of David Fincher. I knew that out of all the directors to tackle this herculean book-to-screen project, Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) has the capability of doing just that, coded in his DNA.

And I wasn't disappointed. Far from it.

As a cinephile, the opening credits are just as important to me as the plotline. In my visual world, it's the proverbial business card, the first impression -- the landing page of the cinematic world if you will.

As soon as the darkness enveloped the hall, the intense futuristic and incredibly edited opening sequence of credits was a feast for the senses. With Oscar and Grammy award-winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's spectacular, soul-shattering rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," the die was cast. My senses were elated and craved more. Much more.

The film follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist played by the brooding Daniel Craig, who after a career downfall gets hired by a retired Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger (played by the scene-chewing thespian, Christopher Plummer) to help solve the 40-year-old mystery of his grand-daughter's murder.

Blomkvist disguises this mission to the rest of the extended family members, who all reside on the same estate in their respective expansive mansions, as just another journalist working on the family patriarch's biography. He quickly realizes the unending layers of dysfunctionality, mistrust and mysteriousness that has shrouded the family for what seems like generations. Needing assistance in what seems like a bigger case than what he bargained for (a bargain which would affect his own sullied journalist reputation), he hires Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara), who herself is a pierced and tattooed outsider dangerously floating just below the radar of humanity. Her steely personality, superbly rough-around-the-edges social skills and jarring gaze hide the fact that she is also a force to be reckoned with, armed with her tunnel vision-like focus, photographic memory and, of course, an investigator's dream, uber-computer hacking prowess.

The film's art direction is sublime. Effortlessly capturing the sleek, unpolluted and uncluttered world of Sweden. It's a world of clean lines and cold winters, which makes you want to reach for your mink throw.

Mara embodies the most buzzed-about cinematic character in the most brazen and brilliant way, proving her salt as the modern-day thespian chameleon. To fully appreciate her depth of transition, it must be noted she also played the preppy Ivy-League student who just couldn't deal with the socially inept Zukerberg in Fincher's Oscar winner The Social Network. My point exactly. It's the same girl.

She embraces the shattered-yet-solid soul that relies on her primal instincts -- to basically survive. Mara's acting doesn't reside in her expressions but much deeper. It's beyond the reserves of her soul. She slithers like her tattooed counterpart. Her heart-stopping gaze and short rough responses leaves the recipient just a little less of a person, after the fact.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is filled with familiar faces of big screen and small. Legendary actors (the ever-yummy Julian Sands plays the younger Henrik in the film's various flashbacks), is a delightful surprise to see and Robin Wright plays the editor of the independent magazine for which Blomkvist wrote the litigious story thus landing him in hot water.

However it's refreshing to see that the collective roster of the players weren't cherry picked from the limited and overly relied upon Hollywood Rolodex.

Fincher manages to capture the essence of the story through and through. As many on-screen adaptations of literary works unfortunately fall victim to the apples to oranges comparison, I'm confident The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo won't be one of them.

This film beautifully possesses a soul that is gritty, unreserved and raw. Much like the dragon emblazoned lead.