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Perverse sex crimes form the visceral core of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but those hideous acts only take up a few minutes of screen time. The real story engine for David Fincher’s unflinching two-hour, 27-minute thriller is fueled by information: Who controls it, who owns it, what’s private, what’s public, how is it hidden, when does memory fail and hard copy triumph? Movies for the past decade have tried and largely failed to overcome the near-comical lack of drama involved in showing the hero tapping on a computer keyboard. Fincher’s R-rated adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel manages the rare trick of rendering digital sleuthing into a cinematic adventure. Investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) and goth hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) pore through dusty photographs, Bibles, old proof sheets, Google searches, diaries, receipts and corporate records stashed in giant warehouses in order to find out what happened to an heiress who vanished in the 1960s. How did Fincher keep things moving? For starters, he picked the right Lisbeth. Mara spent two months auditioning, then shaved her eyebrows and got multiple piercings to get into character as the chain-smoking, junk-food-eating, sexually aggressive, feminist hacker. Subsumed in the character, she displays the scrawny build of a 23-year-old punk rocker and the flat affect of a woman who trusts no one.

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Portrayed by Noomi Rapace in the excellent 2009 Swedish-language Dragon Tattoo movie, Lisbeth Salander resonates as an uncompromising original who embodies a 21st-century truism: Those who master information can master the world. Despite its dense exposition, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which opens Tuesday, also sustains interest thanks to the score by Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network). To transform otherwise static data-collecting scenes into tension-filled scenarios, Ross and the former Nine Inch Nails front man prove masters of the foreboding pulse from hell. In place of melody-dominated orchestrations, they hammer metronomic bass notes laced with delicate chimes and bell tones. The music telegraphs, through a thrilling alchemy with the moving image, an unmistakable sense that something horrible is about to happen. Finally, Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth film frosty Swedish landscapes with consummate artistry. Snow, ice, bleak skies and black trees form an appropriately chilly backdrop for conversations about convoluted family secrets that darken the Dragon Tattoo mystery. Whenever the factoid gathering threatens to drag, Fincher refreshes the visual narrative with shots of spectacular Nordic scenery. While Mara’s take on Lisbeth Salander commands focus as the breakthrough performer, Dragon Tattoo also transcends procedural data-based drama on the strength of her veteran castmates. Craig anchors the movie as the curious, temporarily disgraced journalist. Christopher Plummer provides soul and gravitas as wily corporate titan Henrik Vanger, who triggers the investigation. Stellan Skarsgård, as Martin Vanger, dominates the film’s unspeakably creepy finale with well-practiced charisma. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo creator Larsson, himself an investigative reporter who died under mysterious circumstances in 2004, addressed big digital-age themes on paper. Fincher, screenplay writer Steven Zaillian and company deserve credit for figuring out how to make data drama work as a movie.

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