Blindfolds, gags, tongues, fists -- and that's just the opening credits of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," David Fincher's adaptation of the massively popular Swedish crime novel and 2009 film. It's stylish, if not exactly subtle, and daringly brutal for a Hollywood movie. It's also so uneven and overlong that it may leave non-fans wondering what all the fuss has been about.
"Dragon Tattoo" is based on the first of Stieg Larsson's trilogy, an odd but compelling fusion of detective fiction and goth-punk culture. It focuses partly on former journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, suave but vulnerable), who is hired by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to solve the decades-old disappearance of his granddaughter. She's presumed murdered -- probably by someone in their creepy, Nazi-riddled family (played by Stellan Skarsgård, Joely Richardson and others).
But the central character is Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a bisexual club kid and freelance hacker. Covered in piercings and ink (hence the film's title), she makes quite an impression; touch her and she's likely to leave a deeper one. Husky Swedish actress Noomi Rapace originally played Lisbeth as a blunt instrument; Mara, a waifish but laser-eyed newcomer, convincingly turns her into a scalpel. Gingerly, Mikael recruits her to help solve a mystery that soon points to an entire series of atrocities.
Initially titled "Men Who Hate Women," Larsson's novel allows Fincher ("The Social Network") to return to the carefully crafted nastiness of "Se7en" and "Zodiac," and he's clearly at home during several squirm-inducing scenes of torture and rape. But he can't find a consistent tone for this patchwork narrative -- the movie is part noir, part rock video -- and the final half-hour, which focuses on an unrelated (and uninteresting) villain, nearly torpedoes the whole project. This "Dragon Tattoo" leaves its mark, but it's not necessarily indelible.
PLOT A former journalist and a goth-punk girl team up to catch a killer. RATING R (sexualized violence, language, brief drug use)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Mara is razor-sharp in this stylish but very uneven (and very long) crime-thriller based on the popular novel.