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Byline: Louise Roug

'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is a movie for outcasts (and everyone else).

IT'S HARD NOT to like Lisbeth Salander.

For one thing, her sense of purpose is admirable.

"Horrible things happen to her. And she wanders home. And she sits there. She lights a cigarette, and she fumes. And you don't know what's going on in her head. The next time you see her, she's got a Taser and a 30-pound chrome dildo, and she's got a plan," says David Fincher, who directed the much-anticipated movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

From its opening credits-a slick but dark montage of bodies that come together only to pull apart, dissolve, or explode-to its final, gloomy scene, this is a movie about intimacy and control reflecting the grim but central idea of Stieg Larsson's novel: a meeting between two people is invariably a struggle over power. In this universe, most men are monsters.

It's a bleak depiction of human relationships, which, when done by Fincher, is unapologetically grown-up-and utterly entertaining.

Toward the beginning of the movie, which opens Dec. 20, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the patriarch of the dysfunctional Vanger dynasty, hires investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to solve the disappearance of Vanger's niece from an isolated island in northern Sweden decades ago. Before long, Blomkvist shares the investigation with Salander (Rooney Mara), a young computer hacker with a murky past.

While visually stylish in Fincher's hands--and with a screenplay written by Steven Zaillian, who won an Oscar for Schindler's List--the movie plays out the messy plot points of the book: ritualistic murders, aging Nazis, and incest. And rather than downplay the book's most infamous scene-anal rape followed by shocking, yet gratifying, retribution-Fincher has turned it up a notch. The R rating is fully deserved.

"I don't think I would have been interested in making another thriller if there hadn't been a commitment to making it for an adult audience," says Fincher, who spent months with Mara and Craig, living in Sweden as they shot the movie.

When I meet the three of them together recently at the Dorchester Hotel in London, their familial banter and propensity to finish each other's thoughts suggest just a touch of, well, Stockholm syndrome.

"So many of the decisions to cleave things out of books which are successful have to do with levels of discomfort," says Fincher. "Are we going to make the audiences uncomfortable? But there is no way to take out the things from the book that make the audiences uncomfortable--"

"Because then there's no book, there's no story," Craig interjects.

The charisma of the Salander character is ultimately the reason for the extraordinary success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo--which has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide--and its two sequels. But Salander is no female action hero in a tight leather outfit. She is an outcast who bends the world to her will--in the novel, Blomkvist wonders to himself whether she has Asperger's.

As a director, Fincher is an assured chronicler of life outside the norm. In person, he is engaging and funny, dominating the conversation but nudging Mara to speak up. Having worked with her on The Social Network, in which she had a brief but memorable appearance as Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend, it was Fincher who insisted on casting the little-known actress.

For the role of Salander, Mara's eyebrows were bleached, her hair was cut short and asymmetric, while her eyebrow, ears, and nipple were pierced. …