Two years ago Danish director Niels Arden Oplev presented "Man Som Hatar Kvinnor" aka... "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", an adaptation of Stieg Larsson's best selling novel of the same name. It was a huge hit on the foreign market; it even cleared $10 million in the United States.


The powers that be at Columbia (Sony) couldn't let an opportunity to add a Hollywood touch to a foreign language film - again - and bought the rights to the series (including "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest"). They then enlisted Dave Fincher, most recently of "The Social Network", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", and "Zodiac", who immediately signed Daniel Craig to play Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara to portray Lisbeth Salander - the girl.


Two immediate problems jumped out, especially as this year progressed. One: Craig was now a question mark after poorly selected roles in "Cowboys and Aliens" and Dreamhouse". Two: Mara's experience includes a bit part in "Youth in Revolt", meeting her demise in the reboot of "Nightmare on Elm Street", and the girl dumping Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network". Both actors will be following two strong performances, especially Mara.

However, and I think this is critical, Finch had an ace up his sleeve: Steve Zaillian was his screenwriter. Zaillian won an Oscar for "Schindler's List", was nominated for an Oscar for "Gangs of New York" and "Awakenings". He got accolades for his adaptation of "American Gangster" and is doing well with "Moneyball". In fact, looking back on his body of work to 1985's "Falcon and Snowman", 1993's Searching for Bobby Fischer", 1994's "Clear and Present Danger" and 2001's "Hannibal" - you won't find a dog in the pack. His success rate is incredible.


Approaching three hours in length, the Hollywood version of "The Girl With A Dragon Tatoo" is a masterpiece of adaptation. Everything fits so well it's confounding why Hollywood can't do this all the time.


In a nutshell Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is a disgraced journalist who has lost nearly all his credibility and just about any chance to write again. Because of his investigative style, he is hired by a seclude matriarch of a family named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to find out whatever happened to his niece, who disappeared over 40 years ago. There aren't a lot of clues but the suspects are basically everyone in the family as she disappeared while on the island and the island has always been secluded.


He is provided with an awkward accommodation on the island to begin his investigation. In the meantime we meet Lisbeth Salander (Mara), a bisexual parole who is being abused by government's guardian (Yorick van Wageningen) who enjoys tormenting her. But she has developed investigative skills of her own that include computer hacking.

After a period of failure on his part and interesting circumstance, Blomkvist is drawn to Salanger as an ally to solve the missing girl mystery.


This leads to an interesting partnership including bondage, sadomasochism, and action that will literally rivet you to the screen.


Much like he did with "The Social Network" Finch successfully guides the audience to like the right people and dislike the scum. And there is a lot of scum to go around. The guardian, the family - who is so shady any could have committed the crime. There is no sympathy from the family members which makes you understand why the crime could go so long without concern.


As good as Noomi Rapace (recently as Madam Simza Heron in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows") was as Lisbeth Salander, Mara seems and feels more comfortable with the role. She is hotter and weirder they way we want our hot and weird women.


Daniel Craig sheds the flop of Jake Lonergan ("Cowboys and Aliens") and returns a stellar performance reminding why I like him as the new James Bond.


"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" takes a slightly different take on the Larsson novel, broadens the characters, and redefines the relationship between the two leads with a nice dose of sinister tossed in for good measure. Thismuch better than the original!   -- GEOFF BURTON