There's no way to say this without sounding like a snob, so I'm just gonna get it out of the way: The Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is better. As good as Rooney Mara is as goth hacker Lisbeth Salander—and she's pretty damned good—her performance doesn't come anywhere near Noomi Rapace's diamond-hard incarnation. And even though both films have nearly identical running times—more than two and a half hours long, each—the Swedish Tattoo approaches its characterization and central mystery with more patience and care.
But, still: David Fincher's adaptation of the worldwide-best-selling mystery about Nazis, serial killers, a troubled wealthy family, and a disgraced journalist-turned-investigator? It's gotta be pretty good, right? Well, sure. If you haven't read the books or seen the original movie, you might be shocked and surprised by this Tattoo. (And, yes, the movie contains brutal rape scenes, and you should be warned about the risk of traumatization in advance.) The relationship between Salander and Daniel Craig's Mikael Blomkvist feels for a while like something subversive in mainstream Hollywood: He's totally the bottom, the damsel in distress waiting for his hero to swoop in and save him. And the film is beautiful to watch, with its relentless industrial-goth design sense.
Problem is, there's an essential dumbness to the American Tattoo. Too many corners are trimmed from the mystery, and Salander and Blomkvist's relationship is, ultimately, too pat. A host of great performances (Craig and Mara pair beautifully, while Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård bring a necessary haunted air as members of the mysterious family) and beautiful cinematography come together to make a movie experience that draws you in. But the movie lacks a core, and that lack makes Tattoo inessential.