The first installment in Swedish author Stieg Larsson's posthumously published Millennium Trilogy is titled Män som hatar kvinnor, which translates to "Men Who Hate Women." No description better summarizes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, now given the usually dreaded "American remake" that is spared reflexive condemnation because it is directed by David Fincher, whose career is built upon the sort of atmospheric examination of dark human impulses (Se7ven, Fight Club, Zodiac, etc.) that permeates every facet of Larsson's nihilistic tome.
The enigmatic heart of Fincher's Dragon Tattoo remains anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander, the tortured, fractured product of Sweden's misogynistic ethos. Salander (played by Rooney Mara, who fearlessly steps into the formidable Noomi Rapace's Doc Martens) is a portrait of contrasts: emotionally disturbed yet intensely intelligent; antisocial yet longing for a genuine emotional relationship; a beauty who camouflages herself with piercings, black makeup and body art.
If you need a plot refresher: Disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is summoned to a private island owned by the Vanger clan, a dysfunctional family of industrialists populated by ex-Nazis and sundry recluses, where patriarch Henrik commissions Blomkvist to investigate the four-decades-old disappearance of his grandniece Harriet. The hunt for Harriet quickly expands into a whodunit involving unsolved ritual killings of women reminiscent of the deadly sins-themed slayings in Se7en.
Salander, a surveillance specialist, is enlisted to guide him through the procedural paces. Their research—which consists of a lot of staring at computer screens, newspaper clippings and sepia-toned photos—gives rise to a relationship that slowly strips away the barriers Salander has erected to protect herself, particularly from men.
However, despite a tawdry story that still involves killers, rapists and Nazis (oh, my!), this Girl remains as cold as its Swedish winterscape. Fincher's rather methodical treatment of Steve Zaillian's somnolent screenplay doesn't match the audacity suggested by an ethereal opening-credits sequence set to Trent Reznor's cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," nor the kinkiness of a serial killer who cues up Enya's "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)" as a prelude to slaughter. Mara is terrific, but the actors frequently appear to be mechanically hitting their marks, often in conspicuous proximity to product placement—unless Salander's penchant for Happy Meals is meant to be a metaphor for emotional infantilism.