'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' is cool and crafted, critics say
The story of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" has captivated audiences twice already in recent years — via Stieg Larsson's Millennium novels and their Swedish film adaptations — and introduced an iconic heroine in hacker Lisbeth Salander. Now David Fincher's new English-language version has the challenge of bringing Salander to life while bringing something new to the table. For movie critics, how well Fincher and his team fared depends on who you ask.
The Times' Kenneth Turan finds the film too frigid, writing that the combination of Fincher's steely precision and Larsson's bleak source material "feels, in a coals-to-Newcastle way, like shipping truckloads of ice to the far reaches of the polar regions." Turan also takes issue with the film's handling of Salander, whom he says is the heart of the franchise. Actress Rooney Mara "clearly did everything her director asked of her," Turan writes, "but this film's cold, almost robotic conception of Salander as a twitchy, anorexic waif feels more like a stunt than a complete character, and so the best part of the reason we care enough to endure all that mayhem has gone away."
New York Times film critic A.O. Scott offers a positive review of the film and its Salander. Of the latter he writes, "Ms. Mara captures her volatile and fascinating essence beautifully." The rest of the cast, which includes Daniel Craig as journalist and co-hero Mikael Blomkvist, performs "with professionalism and conviction." The film is not without its flaws, Scott says, many of which are inherited from the source material: "There are waves of brilliantly orchestrated anxiety and confusion but also long stretches of drab, hackneyed exposition that flatten the atmosphere." In the end, though, Fincher's "impressive skill" and Mara's "magnetic" performance add up to something that's hard to shake.
Claudia Puig, of USA Today, says the film "compares favorably" to its 2009 Swedish counterpart, largely thanks to its director: "Fincher's electrifying storytelling makes the most of unsettling visuals, large casts, complex plots and sharp dialogue. His fascination with dark material and masterful technical skills serve him well." As for Salander, however, Puig says Mara "looks the part with her Goth style. But there's a fragility to her portrayal that undermines the more vicious acts of defiance Salander pulls off."
Salon's Andrew O'Hehir deems "Dragon Tattoo" "an immersive and powerful thriller, driven by terrific leading performances." The acting, he says, is a surprising improvement on the Swedish film, and "Mara is a revelation as Lisbeth Salander … playing the character as far more feral and vulnerable than Noomi Rapace’s borderline-stereotype sexpot Goth girl." But O'Hehir also writes, "When it was over I felt a wave of ennui wash over me upon reflecting that we’ve got two more of these to go. Do we really need an entire new series of these films?"
For Mick LaSalle, of the San Francisco Chronicle, the film's raison d'etre is its high quality. Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian "do right by 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'" by building on it, creating a film that "is neither better nor worse than the Swedish film, but [is] more cinematic."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls Fincher's film "the most coldly compelling version yet" of "Dragon Tattoo," but he doesn't see the point in revisiting its story or characters. It's "beautifully cast" and "extremely well made by a genuine and reliable talent," Phillips concedes. "But I thought [Fincher] was done with this sort of thing."
Whether Fincher himself is done with the series remains to be seen. But with two more installments of the Millennium trilogy waiting in the wings, chances are we haven't seen the last of Salander.
— Oliver Gettell
Photo: Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Anders Linden / Columbia TriStar.