(director: David Fincher; screenwriter: Steve Zaillian/book by Stieg Larsson; cinematographer: Jeff Cronenweth; editors: Kirk Baxter/Angus Wall; music: Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross; cast: Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist), Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander), Christopher Plummer (Henrik Vanger), Stellan Skarsgard (Martin Vanger), Steven Berkoff (Frode), Robin Wright (Erika Berger), Yorick van Wageningen (Bjurman), Joely Richardson (Anita Vanger), Geraldine James (Cecilia), Goran Visnjic (Armansky), Donald Sumpter (Detective Morell), Ulf Friberg (Wennerstrom); Runtime: 158; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Scott Rudin/Ole Sondberg/Soren Staermose/Cean Chaffin; Sony; 2011)

Can’t think of too many times a Hollywood version is so much superior to a European original.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

David Fincher (“The Social Network”/”Zodiac”/”Fight Club”) is arguably the best director possible for this provocative but lengthy Swedish mystery story, based on the popular potboiler 2005 book by Stieg Larsson, published posthumously, and written with economy by Steve Zaillian. It was filmed in a rambling and plodding way in Sweden, in 2009, by Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev. Though it’s similar to the original film, Fincher’s remake is tighter, slicker, better acted, more gripping and the storytelling is first-class.Can’t think of too many times a Hollywood version is so much superior to a European original.

The divorced middle-aged loner, with a teenage daughter, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), is the disgraced muckraking Stockholm liberal journalist who lost a libel suit to a crooked billionaire industrialist (Ulf Friberg), as he was set up with dubious evidence to lose the case. Mikael’s magazine, Millennium, is about to go under because of his resulting money woes, when the eighty-something retired wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who lives on a secluded frigid island in the North, hires him to solve a forty year mystery of the disappearance in 1966 of his deceased Nazi brother’s 16-year-old daughter Harriet. The dysfunctional family is an unsympathetic one, consisting of unfriendly and hateful clan members. Henrik’s brother’s son, Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgard), the older brother of the missing Harriet, now heads the long established large corporation. The entire family lives on the island that Henrik owns, as Mikael goes to live there in a cottage and is separated from his married workplace colleague mistress Erika (Robin Wright).She remains back in Stockholm to save the magazine, that soon receives a hefty investment from Henrik as part of his gratitude for Mikael’s help.

Meanwhile Mikael is assisted in his investigation by the 23-year-old vulnerable but street-smart ward of the state Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the small-framed girl with the bad manners, tremendous computer skills, titled tattoo and many body piercings, who is not shy about hacking into computers or ruthlessly getting even with abusers who violate her. She is recruited for him by Henrik’s wily Stockholm attorney Dirch Frode (Steven Berkoff), who had Lisbeth first investigate Mikael.

The film only slows down when it moves into police procedural matters, offering many high-speed Internet searches. What it uncovers is that the monstrous family includes Nazis, rapists, incest bullies, serial murderers, alcoholics and your run-of-the-mill sneering snobs. The investigation also uncovers corrupt business practices; the failure of government institutions to protect vulnerable females from abuse; the pervert legal guardian, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), the state appoints to look after Lisbeth, who abuses her; and it shows a general climate of evil that is allowed to exist in the biggest industries and the richest families. It offers a stinging indictment of the complacent Swedish government and the failure of Swedish society to protect its most vulnerable citizens, as well as the general public from abuse.

The soul of the film is Rooney Mara, who is magical in every scene and gives an alluring performances–one where you can’t take your eyes off her when she’s onscreen and one you can’t easily forget after leaving the theater. The film’s main fault is the pat ending, where there’s no mystery left as everything about this messy narrative is tied up too smoothly to be convincing. Otherwise this thriller makes for a chilling watch, as it tracks the unsmiling avenging angel work with fierce passion on a cold case seeking justice for other women victims of evil men and for her own sexual liberation.

REVIEWED ON 12/23/2011 GRADE: A-