Fincher brings a sleek, achingly cool vibe to this remake of the first novel in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. Although he doesn't find any more subtext in the intriguing characters and rather straightforward mystery, the film holds us completely in its grip.
Disgraced journalist Mikael (Craig) takes a job on an isolated island looking into the 40-years-earlier disappearance of the teenage niece of millionaire industrialist Vanger (Plummer). But the deeper Mikael digs, the messier things get. He discovers all kinds of nastiness in Henrik's dysfunctional family. Then he teams up with gifted hacker Lisbeth (Mara) to unravel the knots in the story. But as a ward of the state, Lisbeth is also dealing with her own rather intense situation.
Essentially two separate plot strands that merge together at various key points, the film follows Mikael and Lisbeth as they investigate the girl's disappearance and cope with personal issues. Mikael is seeing his married boss (Wright), and Lisbeth is fighting back at her abusive parole officer (van Wageningen). As they meet members of Vanger's extended, feuding family (including Sarsgaard, Richardson and James), Mikael and Lisbeth find their paths converging. Clearly working together is the way forward, but only if Lisbeth decides she can trust him.
Especially tight writing and direction make the film thoroughly involving, adding an emotional sting to the brainy dialog and narrative. The film looks like a work of art, with especially fine production design, cinematography and editing, plus a fiercely inventive score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Acting-wise, Mara gets the more interesting role, constantly letting us see new sides to Lisbeth as the details unfold. By contrast, Craig and the fine supporting cast look like they're just along for the ride.
Fincher's perfectionist sense of artistry makes this film much more visually and thematically involving than the original 2009 Swedish film. There is a nagging inconsistency of actors' accents, as everyone speaks a variation of English even though they're all Swedes, so perhaps not transposing the story to an English-speaking location (see Let Me In or Insomnia) is really the only mistake. Because otherwise this is a riveting, gorgeously crafted thriller for grown-ups.