David Fincher's adaptation of the first third of Stieg Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy" (which has already been adapted once), "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," is every bit as haunting as could be expected when the project was announced. From the opening credit sequence, which features some kind of weird animation involving black dye being cast repeatedly around the profile of the film's antihero, Lisbeth Sander (Rooney Mara), all set to the tune of Trent Reznor's cover of "The Immigrant Song," it is clear the film is going to come at you hard and heavy.
This expectation is fulfilled more and more as the film goes on, eventually bringing you (semi-spoiler-but-not-really alert) a grand total of three rape scenes, a mutilated cat, and some near-murders. Sander and Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) traipse around, attempting to solve a murder committed decades ago that continues to haunt the thoughts of a wealthy family's patriarch (Christopher Plummer).
The film seems cheap and poorly thought-out through its opening scenes, perhaps because Craig's acting is subpar and Mara's is strictly average and both are given a blunt, nuance-free script to work with, but once the action and thrills kick in, all is forgiven. While Fincher is comfortable working with dialogue (see Social Network, The, for one recent example), his screenwriters and actors seem to prefer it when more is happening onscreen than just talking. In less experienced hands, this might threaten to lead the film to spiral out of control, but Fincher polishes the brutal violence and chilling suspense of the film's final two-thirds to make them spine-tinglingly enjoyable.
In the end, Dragon Tattoo overstays its welcome by a solid twenty minutes (chalk it up to setting up for the sequel) and fails to fully explain its more intricate plot points to those who are not familiar with the novel; still, it provides non-stop entertainment with Fincher's artistic flourishes. Flawed it may be, but excellent it is nevertheless.