It seemed impossible, after Noomi Rapace’s unforgettable performance in the Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that anyone else could do a better job, let alone Rooney Mara, so wholesome and slight in previous roles.
And yet – sorry, Noomi – Mara absolutely nails it. David Fincher’s reworking of Stieg Larsson’s novel belongs to Lisbeth Salander almost to a fault, with other characters forced to take a back seat in a film that is superbly handsome though curiously procedural.
For newcomers to the Millennium trilogy, Mara is Salander, a spiky-haired tattooed loner with a photographic memory and an uncanny gift for computer hacking. She has a disturbing past that has left her a ward of the state and, when we meet her, with a corrupt guardian (Yorick van Wageningen) who wants sexual favours in return for freeing up her allowance.
Smaller and more fragile-looking than Rapace, Mara infuses Salander with a vulnerability fans of the book will appreciate. She bristles with hostility in every scene, but, like a misunderstood teenager, seems, above all else, lonely.
This is a crucial characteristic when she eventually meets Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), the disgraced journalist, whom she joins to solve an old murder mystery in the freezing village of Hedestad.
Fincher is right to hone in on this vulnerability plot-wise, and, like Larsson’s book, gives us time to get to know her. He was always the obvious choice for the American remake and his film is a technical masterpiece, an impressive mélange of careful plotting, stunning cinematography and an inspired, gritty soundtrack.
But while the novel could just about get away with devoting its first half to two entirely separate stories – that of Blomkvist and that of Salander - here the separation feels disjointed. The film has the bizarre sensation of being both slow-starting and yet, at the same time, rushed.
Perhaps the problem is that the pacing of the book is itself top-heavy. Translated so meticulously to the screen, it was never going to feel as thrilling as a murder mystery should.
Blomkvist’s trial, the character development of the Vanger family members, the relationship between Blomkvist and Salander –it all feels a bit undercooked. Plot details are so carefully interwoven that some of the passion is lost along the way.
Craig too, as the disenchanted hack, is less charming than we might expect. He is supposed to be irresistible to women but mostly he just seems bored.
That said, this slow-burning, fastidious approach to film-making is also what makes FIncher's film so undeniably classy. The scene in which Blomkvist finds himself face to face with the murderer is eeked out, a knife casually stoking a torso, tauntingly seeking the right moment to strike with the precision only a psychotic killer could have.
Similarly, if the pacing feels a tad off, the atmosphere is spectacular. The characters give the impression of being genuinely freezing, the isolation of both rural Sweden and the lonely cityscape of Stockholm completing the sense of national disconnect that Larsson was so keen to illustrate.
In a world of corrupt capitalism, horrifying misogyny and lingering anti-Semitism, everyone, not just Salander, is exposed.
This is a film that will split audiences: almost too technically brilliant, it devotes itself to Salander and to narrative at the expense of exhilaration. And yet it is executed with such assurance and beauty that Fincher fans will probably love it all the same.
Larsson himself would probably have loved this classier interpretation of his rather pulpy narrative. The final scene, defiantly unresolved and tragic, is, like his trilogy, Lisbeth Salander's through and through.