David Fincher's eagerly-awaited adaptation of Stieg Larsson's acclaimed opus is a scintillating masterpiece that holds you in a vice-like grip for every frame of its extensive duration.
An audacious title sequence set to a pulsating Trent Reznor score instantly instils a powerful visual dynamism that never diminishes in this twisted tale of murder, lust and revenge. Crucially, Fincher's aesthetic design, fascinating shot composition and sleek camerawork ensures that the slower, methodical nature of certain parts of the narrative never allows the pace and audience interest to sag - as it did in the earlier Swedish film adaptation.
Within Fincher's intricately layered frames is a superb cast who uniformly excel in their roles. As the demoralised but determined journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Daniel Craig exudes warmth and a lingering sense of vulnerability. Consequently, you trust and root for him in his laborious quest to uncover the disappearance of a teenage girl in Sweden four decades ago, all while uncovering skulduggery at the heart of the once powerful Vanger family.
A computer hacking expert with a turbulent past and mental health issues, she floats on the periphery of society and is reliant on state handouts to survive. It's a huge understatement to say that she is not a person to mess with.
There was something akin to a media frenzy when the name Rooney Mara was announced in the part, following months of speculation and casting rumours. Fincher made a brilliant choice. Mara doesn't so much play Lisbeth as inhabit her.
Much discussion will ensue over the actress's extreme physical transformation, with multiple piercings, bleached eyebrows and a Mohawk all inflicted on her, but it's what lies behind that gaze that is the most enthralling element. Every look she gives, from hope to despair to gut-wrenching pain, is remarkably truthful. Just to watch her interact with her surroundings is heartbreaking at times, yet there's also an inspirational quality present.
Another masterful move by Fincher was his decision not to relocate the story to America - for the manner and texture in which he depicts a wintery Sweden is breathtaking. These visuals are far from superficial though, as they work expressionistically and subtly on our perceptions of the characters.
The shocking scenes of brutality have not been toned down to pander to a mass audience and these carry immense impact due to their unflinchingly raw presentation.
The dark tone is sporadically alleviated at well-timed junctures though, with a macabre sense of humour at play courtesy of a few amusing quips from the protagonists and a very strange use for the music of Enya. Although, it must be said that the casting of the increasingly ubiquitous Alan 'Jim Robinson' Dale as a Swedish police chief is amusing for unintentional reasons.
A mesmerizing movie that veers towards an unbearably tense climax, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo benefits from invigorating direction and superb acting that allows the old-fashioned mystery to unravel in a hugely satisfying and captivating way. The wait for Fincher to make the next two movies in the Millennium Trilogy will be hard.