If you remember Rooney Mara as the girl who dumped Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010), her transformation to Lisbeth Salander will seem particularly dramatic. Gone is that demure look; Mara now sports a choppy black haircut, multiple piercings, tattoos and a punk-inspired, biker-chic getup in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

It’s a drastic transformation, a breakthrough role for the actress. While Rooney Mara gets an “A+” for the effort, it still feels as if the actress has acquired Lisbeth’s mannerisms and appearance, without really fleshing out the character’s larger-than-life personality.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher, runtime: 158 minutes

In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a financial journalist and an anti-social hacker team up to investigate a decades-old murder mystery in an isolated Swedish smalltown.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist who takes up a dodgy-sounding but well-paid reinvestigation from retired billonaire Henrik Vanger. Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander is that female hacker who becomes Blomkvist’s more than capable research assistant. It soon becomes clear to even Blomkvist himself that Lisbeth Salander is much better at detective work than he is; Lisbeth hard at work makes Mikael’s progress seem almost snail-like.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is indeed a sleek production directed by David Fincher, a director who seems like a perfect fit for the brutal material and the grittier themes of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling book trilogy; Fincher’s filmography includes Fight Club (1999), Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007). One of the film’s stand-out sequences involves a thrilling subway scene, where Lisbeth snatches her laptop back from a thief who truly underestimated his target.

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The leading pair Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

If Noomi Rapace played a Lisbeth who looks more than capable of taking care of herself in the Swedish adaptation, Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth is intentionally slimmer and more vulnerable-looking in consequence. Yes, Mara’s Lisbeth is more faithful to the novel’s description of the female protagonist but it does make some of her achievements less believable on-screen. While a number of Lisbeth’s feats do sound rather fantastical in the book, the movie makes this pitfall more obvious.

Craig and Mara also have little chemistry to make the later Lisbeth-Mikael pairing seem believable; Craig’s Mikael seems almost as frigid and indifferent as the snowy Swedish landscape. Sure, the coupling may start awkwardly but it’s hard to keep the audience interested in the later developments of their relationship.

Fincher’s adaptation does make the right choice in keeping the Swedish setting; the cold, unforgiving winter illustrates the hostility of the Vanger family clan. The accents are admittedly a strange and inconsistent mix, with a few obligatory “Skål”s thrown in as the characters toast to better times.

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The wintery Swedish setting in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Indeed, this Hollywood adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millenium book trilogy has a lot to live up to; the novels have won an international following and the 2007 Swedish television movie adaptations were also well-received. In the Swedish movie trilogy, Noomi Rapace made a particularly compelling Lisbeth who fought back against her tormentors with a fierce vengeance.

“Men who hate women” is the original title of Larsson’s first novel but this blunt point about the abuse of women doesn’t feel as strongly felt in this movie adaptation. The rape scene is brutal but it feels downplayed by the ways in which the movie handles subsequent sex scenes and its almost furtive shots of some violent sequences.

Even if we skip the comparisons between Fincher’s adaptation and the Swedish movie trilogy, this film is still missing that certain spark that makes a film stick in your head, long after the credits roll.

Verdict: 3 / 5. Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may plod at some moments but the movie is still a stylish and entertaining adaptation overall. But if you’ve read the book or seen the Swedish adaptation, you may be stuck wondering why another movie adaptation of this novel ought to matter.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo premieres in Singapore on January 5, 2012.