Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist
Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger
Stellan Skarsgård as Martin Vanger
Steven Berkoff as Frode
Robin Wright as Erika Berger
Yorick van Wageningen as Bjurman
Joely Richardson as Anita Vanger
Geraldine James as Cecilia
Goran Visnjic as Aramansky
Donald Sumpter as Detective Morell
Ulf Friberg as Wennerström
Bengt C.W. Carlsson as Palmgren
Tony Way as Plague
Per Myberg as Harald
It should go without saying that no adaptation is going to please everyone; it's impossible to encompass all the nuances of one medium across the transition to another. Which makes comparisons not exactly a waste of time but certainly counterproductive, as it becomes difficult to judge a work for what it is rather than what it isn't. By that token, multiple adaptations of the same work have a steeper hill to climb, especially if previous versions are more than capable of standing alone in and of themselves.
Which is all a long way of saying the less familiar you are with any other iteration of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," the more you will like David Fincher's take on it. Considering the novel is a much loved phenomenon and the original Swedish adaptation is only two years old, the odds of limited exposure are low. But for the unfamiliar...
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a reporter in disgrace. Convicted of libel and his career in a shambles, he doesn't know what his next move will be. Not until a reclusive billionaire (Christopher Plummer) shows up with an offer he should refuse but can't - proof that he is actually right in his accusations if he can discover who murdered a teenage girl 40 years earlier. It's a seemingly impossible task; fortunately Blomkvist has help in the comely shape of the equally impossible hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).
This is frankly the kind of thing Fincher can do in his sleep. It is slick and entertaining from beginning to end, swerving across a story which sprawls from downtown Stockholm to 40-year-old family gatherings to underground torture chambers and disfigured corpses. It should be child's play for the director of "Se7en" and it is.
Unfortunately because he is just the right director for the American version of "Girl" he never has to try and go beyond his own boundaries and that shows as well, though it's not entirely his fault. Screenwriter Steven ("Moneyball") Zaillian's script never manages to take control of the source material. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is so unerringly faithful it stops being an adaptation and soon becomes a recitation of the book. Even worse, when it does make changes for the better it shows a willingness to do so which is never taken to its logical conclusion. To a point this is fine as it preserves what's good and well-liked about the source material. Most of which is Salander.
A cynic might say she is the kind of character created to be popular. Anti-social, emotionally scarred and with a will of iron, she is honey for the hurt-comfort addicts of the world, crying out for help and not wanting any of it. Which is the thing which makes her not only palatable but likeable; she refuses to turn her pain to pathos but instead shows the world nothing but strength. It makes for an interesting swap on the typical male-female, hero-damsel dynamic, putting Craig in the typical sensitive damsel role. And Mara plays it well, showing off Salander's standoffishness without becoming a blank slate. Though to be fair, Salander is such a well defined character (at least early on before she begins taking on superhuman dimensions in later books) it would take a legitimately bad actress to screw her up.
Though none of the other characters are quite as sharp, they are all just as well cast, often to type and doing exactly what is needed of them. But despite any pretensions there's not much else going on beyond just what is needed. It's just too faithful to the book, incorporating some scenes which it does not even need except that they were in the book. Eventually it can't help but pick up some of the novelistic habits of the source which don't translate well to a plot-sensitive thriller. There's an old saying about horror films: "When the monster is dead the movie is over," which Zaillian and Fincher have forgotten in their quest to include as much of the source as they can, to the point of losing sight of what they want their movie to be about.
Which is the only thing that's really wrong with "Dragon Tattoo," it's expertly rote. But that's a big something and eventually impossible to get away from. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is everything you would expect from Fincher's version of the book and that is the good and the bad. Slick and entertaining throughout, there is absolutely nothing in it which surprises.