THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a killer film that will leave you breathing hard, and thinking at warp speed. Directed by David Fincher and based on the smash international best-selling trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson, the American version is not as viscerally affecting as its Swedish cousin, but packs mighty tension into a highly compressed, complex, and ultimately thrilling plot about the abuse of women, and the ancillary corruptions men are heir to.

This explosive amalgam of murder, sadism, graft, and ultra dysfunctional family intrigue is ignited by a 40 year- old cold case: the mystery of a beautiful young girl who disappeared off an isolated snow-swept Swedish Island.  Her uncle Henrik, the patriarch of the wealthy Vanger family (Christopher Plummer) hires investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to solve the case.  (Craig, surprisingly, doesn’t register as vividly as his pockmarked Swedish counterpart Michael Nyqvist.) But before they hire Blomkvist, the family hires Lisbeth Salander, an outlaw computer hacker who thoroughly vets Blomkvist.  Rooney Mara plays the brilliant, troubled, and intrepid Salander, one of the most exciting female characters to hit the screen in many a moon. Noomi Rapace brought a hard-bitten impenetrability to the part in the Swedish version.  But I must say, Miss Mara –who tempers her character’s toughness with wounded fragility, definitely holds her own when push comes to shove– which it does, often.

The dark, damaged, pierced, tattooed, and diminutive Salander comes trailing her own mysterious, sordid past; she  is on probation for a childhood crime. Fueled by anger, she continually battles the corrupt patriarchal bureaucracy to whom she is indentured. In the film’s sadistic centerpiece she physically confronts her literal and figurative enslavement in the person of her probation guardian. The scene in the Swedish version is almost unbearable; under Fincher’s direction the scene is watchable– but no less harrowing. Thus Salander, as warrior, is highly motivated to team up with Blomkvist to solve a long ago crime against a young woman.

Larsson’s plot is metatstatic. Blomkvist has a tangled love life– he’s involved with the beautiful married editor (Robin Wright) of the magazine he works for, a magazine that has just been successfully sued by a big Swedish industrialist — that the Vanger family is out to get. And then there’s the Vanger family tree– peopled with Nazis, “funny” uncles, eccentric aunts, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews– some of whom still live on the island. The action never lets up–sometimes too quickly connecting the dots before the dots have had a chance to register.  Good luck keeping track.

The film packs all the action into a propulsive 158 minutes– which fly by–as does the stellar cast, which also includes Stellan Skarsgard, Joely Richardson, and Goran Visnjic. I have one quibble– the ending, which has been altered; for what purpose I have no idea, unless it was to save money on an additional actor’s salary!? It’s not an improvement and the final revelation is underplayed.

No matter– THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is one intense ride– that you might want to take again– in case you missed something!