20/12/2011 08:18 GMT | Updated 19/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Review: 'Girl With A Dragon Tattoo' Starring Daniel Craig And Rooney Mara, From Stieg Larsson's Books

Screenwriter Steven Zaillian called it a no-brainer, and I'm sure this was so for American studio execs, keen to cash in on the iconic, already fabled appeal and picturesque imaginings of Stieg Larsson's Millenium Series.

The question was whether they could do it proper justice, and justify turning out an English version, when there is already a much-respected Swedish original, still warm on the DVD shelf.

This film is very much a game of two halves - in one, we see Daniel Craig as relentless journalist Mikael Blomkvist, exiled from Stockholm after a particularly expensive libel conviction, charged with discovering the whereabouts of a reclusive millionaire's much-loved grand-daughter.

Craig paces across a bleak, exclusive Swedish island, pores over old documents in his cold cabin, gets to know the family one by one - it's like an extended version of 'CSI: Cold Northern Europe', where any fans of Wallander or The Killing will feel right at home.

Meanwhile, back in the city, a very different pursuit of justice is occurring. Teenage delinquent-turned investigator Lisbeth Salander, played by relative newcomer Rooney Mara, plots revenge for the degradation she suffers at the hands of the man charged with her care.

Both the scenes of her torture, and what she inflicts in return, are clear enough for it to be a relief when she eventually moves away to assume the role of Blomkvist's professional and, surprisingly, emotional sidekick.

That these two very different themes form a cogent whole is a credit to Zaillian's script, David Fincher's assured direction and above all the two leads.

Craig is still as tough as boots, but softer-bellied than we've seen him recently as Bond, his lined face and pale eyes suitably wolfish against the Scandinavian snow, and he allows his vulnerability to come through in his scenes with Mara.

And it is Mara who is the emotional heart of the film. Quite aside from her well-documented, physical commitment to the role - including all sorts of piercings, tattooing and hair colourings - she inhabits Salander totally. Despite all her apparent toughness, it is obvious what she really needs is a big hug and a good meal.

We watch her gradually unfold to Blomkvist like a nervous foal ready to flee and, despite her efforts to keep everyone at bay, our hearts warm too.

Fincher has recently confirmed that he'll be shooting the other two films back to back, bearing in mind how much it will take out of his actors, particularly Mara. But, at least this pair's surprisingly effective chemistry will fuel them through the rest of the trilogy.

Girl With a Dragon Tattoo is in UK cinemas from Friday. See Rooney Mara's transformation below:

Rooney Mara