Breaking Down ‘The Dragon Tattoo’ Reviews

by Norm Gregory on December 13, 2011

in Movies

I re-read the first two reviews of the David Fincher’s ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ . . . and took some notes.

Legend: Variety The Hollywood Reporter

Movie Length

. . . a pacey but unhurried 158-minute running time.

The film pushes through all these preliminaries, not with haste, exactly, but in such a compressed way that there is little sense of lullingly enveloping the viewer into the narrative web; it just rushes you into it . .


. . . considerably slicker and more sophisticated piece of film craft than the Swedish production

From the outset, it’s unmistakably a Fincher film; the superlatively sharp visuals, the immaculate design, the innate knack for melding sound and music, the chill and menace evoked from both modern cities and open spaces, the beautiful people marked by deep scars and flaws — all feel part of his habitual landscape.

Compared to the book

Hewing more faithfully to the novel than its predecessor did

. . . there is the fresh pleasure of a key interlude from the book that the Swedish film omitted, that of Lisbeth’s eventful trip to Switzerland in disguise, and the new resolution of the Harriet story is clever and plausible enough.

For all the fetishistic attention Fincher and his crew lavish on every gruesome forensic detail, they’re unable to transmute Larsson’s rudimentary mystery plotting into something more than pop-lit fare.

Rape Scene

As with the Swedish pic, the scenes in which this sadist abuses his authority will prove the most difficult to watch, although here the degradation is more implied than seen, shot dimly and from a well-judged distance, with no hint of leering or exploitation . . .

. . slightly built Lisbeth remains a ward of the state whose new piggish guardian coerces her into sexual favors, then rough rape, in exchange for the money she’s due. Her astonishing revenge, clearly depicted here but not lingered over, is already one for the annals.

Mara vs Rapace

. . . the hypnotic presence of Mara, who fearlessly steps into a role made iconic by Swedish thesp Noomi Rapace and proves more than equal to the challenge. Whereas Rapace emphasized the character’s pluck and rage, the more petite, vulnerable-looking Mara presents Salander as an emptied-out enigma.

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.

Craig vs Nyqvist

Though he’s a more compelling Blomkvist than Swedish originator Michael Nyqvist, Craig still makes sure to present the character as a bit of a schlump, tamping down his leading-man charisma to allow Mara to decisively claim the spotlight.

Mikael is a fractionally less interesting character here than in the previous film, and Craig, while entirely watchable, doesn’t reveal much that’s going on inside him beyond what’s already called for on the surface.

Bottom Line

If the brooding intelligence and technical mastery on display at times feel disproportionate to the material, Rooney Mara’s riveting take on Lisbeth Salander amply validates what will likely be Fincher’s biggest success to date.

Fine American version of the literary sensation delivers everything except that something extra . . . But for all the skill brought to bear on it, the film offers no surprises in the way it’s told (aside from a neatly altered ending) . . . Dragon Tattoo is too neatly wrapped up, too fastidious to get under your skin and stay there.


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