Rooney Mara owns "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

That is to say, while the film shows off David Fincher at his meticulous, moody best and Daniel Craig delivers yet another stellar performance, the beating heart of the picture — or, if you will, the exposed pierced nipple — is Mara as the spiky-haired hacker, Lisbeth Salander.

For all the shortcomings of "Dragon Tattoo"— and there are a bunch, from a pacing that sometimes drags to Swedish author Stieg Larsson's deeply unsatisfying ending — you walk away unable to shake what you've just seen from Mara. Alternately vulnerable and vicious, her Salander is an entirely different creature from the one presented by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version of the film and, what's more, an entirely different creature from anything Mara offered in "The Social Network" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street."

Let's stop right there, before we go from gushing to outright hero worship. At least we're not alone. With the "Dragon Tattoo" review embargo officially lifted, critics have been celebrating Mara's performance.

The Transformation
"Rooney Mara's blazing, uncompromising performance is the film's center, practically its reason to exist. ... Eyebrows bleached blond, hair jet black and scowling constantly, Salander has deliberately modeled herself as the opposite of the feminine ideal, and though Mara digs into her humanity and even sensuality, she never lets down Salander's guard for the sake of the audience sympathy." — Katey Rich, Cinema Blend

The Chemistry
"Mara and Craig make an indomitable screen pair, he nominally leading their intense search into decades-old serial killings, she surging ahead, plowing through obstacles with flashes of phenomenal intellect and eruptions of physical fury." — David Germain, The Associated Press

The Sex Scenes
"[It's] Mara's movie for the taking, and she snatches it up in dramatic fashion. ... Fincher's belief in her is borne out in a dominating performance of submerged rage, confidence and defiance. Baring all in the several sex scenes, both coerced and consensual, she goes all the way in a performance that compares favorably to that of Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version and its two sequels. She comes across here as the real deal." — Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

The Awards
"Mara, I feel, gives Salander a sadder and more vulnerable aura and a more emotionally readable quality than what Noomi Rapace delivered in the Swedish trilogy. You might compare the two films down the road and say, 'Nope, don't see it...six of one, half-dozen of the other' but I know what I felt from Mara's eyes, and there's a lot going on inside her, I swear. Tremors and feints and glances and looks that say 'stay away, I don't want you near....wait, maybe I do.' There's enough in this performance, I feel, for Mara to be counted among the year's Best Actress nominees." — Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere

The Final Word
"You can't take your eyes off Rooney Mara as the notorious Lisbeth Salander." — David Denby, The New Yorker

Check out everything we've got on "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

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