Now Playing (Soon): Fincher’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’ Makes Its Mark

David Fincher’s adaptation/remake of Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. While the film doesn’t open until December 23rd, the embargo against reviews lifts today. Unlike some publications, we abide by such agreements here.

Disclaimer: This may not be a popular thing to admit, but hear me out for a moment because I believe that I have a valid point. Whenever I’m presented with the choice between a foreign film or an Americanized remake of that same property, I prefer to watch the remake first. Go ahead and call me heretic, a biased bigot or whatever you want, but I have a reason for this. Every culture has its own style and manner of storytelling. Styles that work in some countries do not always work in others, and foreigners will often miss important story details due to cultural differences. I tend to prefer the Americanized remakes because they’re better polished for the culture in which I live. That’s not to say that I don’t like foreign films; I just find American movies easier to connect with. Make sense?

Just as I was about to watch the original Swedish film adaptation of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘, I learned that David Fincher was in the process of remaking the same property. Therefore, I held off from watching the Swedish version. To this day, I still haven’t seen it. I’ll eventually get to it once I’ve gotten through some Blu-ray reviews and awards screeners.

I’m also not much of a reader, so I went into Fincher’s movie knowing little about the story beyond those parts shown in the eight-minute extended trailer. Considering how hyped the book is and how much love my critic friends have for the Swedish movie, I expected a lot more from what I saw. Hopefully, watching the original movie will show me exactly what has made this such a beloved book and film series.

I want to break my review down into two general areas: the story and the filmmaking.

The story behind ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is far from what I expected. Everyone talks about how edgy the books and movies are, but aside from two graphic scenes, the picture isn’t as gritty as I expected it to be. I was surprised that it turned out to be nothing more than a murder mystery with really well-developed characters. While the murder mystery is the story that drives this film, I found it to be the least interesting part. I loved learning about Lisbeth Salander’s character. She’s so deep and real. Even though she’s capable of horrible things, I want to know more about her, what makes her tick, and how she became the unpredictable young woman that she is. The sub-plot about Mikael Blomkvist losing a legal battle with a corrupt Goliath corporation is also thrilling, especially when it pops up again toward the end of the film.

Just like some of those many John Grisham novels that got made into movies in the ’90s, this film’s driving murder mystery may be the stuff that great page-turners are made of, but doesn’t quite carry the same intense force to the big screen. Again, this may work better in the original film, but in Fincher’s it’s just okay.

Filmmaking-wise, I also expected a lot more from David Fincher. ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Fight Club’ are two of my all-time favorite films. ‘Se7en’ and ‘Zodiac’ are also up there. But ‘Dragon Tattoo’ doesn’t have the same Fincher feel as the others. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still better than most movies out there, but we’ve learned to expect a lot more from Fincher than other directors. We hold him to a higher standard that just doesn’t seem to be met here.

After a quick intro scene, the movie kicks off with a loud James Bond-esque credits sequence set to the cover of “Immigrant’s Song” used in the film’s trailers. This intro is beautifully mesmerizing. You cannot peel your eyes away from it and don’t dare blink in fear of missing some amazing imagery. This is the same bold tone that the trailers have given off. Unfortunately, the heightened energy of this sequence isn’t followed-up with a scene that matches its power. It’s almost as if Fincher is banking on the “feel bad” marketing when only two scenes in the film actually match that tone and energy.

Visually, the movie looks great. The way that winter in Europe is portrayed on the big screen will make you feel the chill in your climate-controlled theater. The imagery is right up to par with Fincher’s best.

As for casting, Rooney Mara is fantastic as Lisbeth. I hear that Noomi Rapace is brilliant, so that’s another thing I look forward to in the original. But don’t discredit Mara as just a cute little girl doing Goth cosplay. She carries her own and does better than her co-star Daniel Craig. As always, Craig is fine, but he doesn’t stand out any more than a dozen other actors who could have played the role.

All in all, I genuinely like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, but I don’t think that it lives up to the hype that the fans have created nor the high standard that we expect from David Fincher. To me, this seems like a story that would be better read than watched.

When I came home from the super-secret screening, my wife asked: “So, was it everything you wanted it to be? Is it as awards-worthy as they’re making it out to be?” Truthfully, the movie left me wanting more – not a sequel necessarily, but I was a little unfulfilled. When the main story was resolved, I thought,“That’s it?” It’s a good thing that was followed-up with more about the evil corporation. As for the film being awards-worthy, maybe – but not nearly as much as I expected and nowhere near as much as I campaigned for ‘The Social Network’ last year. Mara is fantastic and the score is amazing, but that’s about all I will be considering ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for when my film critics’ circle votes next week.

Rating: ★★★★☆


  1. JM

    Your review mirrors how I felt about the swedish version.

    Did they censor the nudity, to protect our delicate American sensibility?

    This feels like another ‘Panic Room.’ Gun-for-hire work, to feed the lifestyle.

    Mostly I’m waiting for David Fincher’s ‘Cleopatra’ with Angelina Jolie.

    • The rape scene isn’t near as graphic as the Swedish movie and nowhere near as graphic as the book. However, the scene in which Lisbeth gets him back is more graphic than I expected it to be.

      For fans of the books and original movies there are some funky changes that Fincher made in this movie. I won’t spoil it, but I didn’t like them. For one thing there is a certain aspect about this movie that isn’t divulged until the second book, but since it’s divulged here it makes a Fincher sequel seem VERY unlikely if not impossible.

      • Drew

        Did they censor the nudity?

        You said that the rape scene isn’t nearly as graphic, but neglected to mention whether or not the Salander nudity has been reduced in comparison to the Swedish film.

        • Having not seen the original, I can’t compare the nudity, but I will tell you that you get a few eye-fulls of Rooney Mara. I was pretty surprised by the rape scene. It’s the most shocking rape I’ve seen in a film. Hard to watch. If Aaron is right about the original being more graphic, I can’t imagine how much worse it is.

          • Drew

            The rape scene in the Swedish original is patently horrifying. It’s the most raw and genuine act of it’s kind that I’ve ever seen in any mainstream film. I can barely watch it.

            If the rape scene in the American remake is a little less graphic, count me as one of the people that will be nothing but pleased by that.

          • JM


            I will admit, Noomi Rapace’s nipples kind of freaked me out a bit.

            I have a friend with non-traditional nipples, and we talk about them a lot. How sexual imperfection isn’t much admired in the various entertainment mediums, so when they pop out of nowhere it’s sort of like a jump scare.

            But based on the international poster, I assume it’s safe to say Rooney Mara’s nipples, the way David shot them, will be far less controversial.

    • Luke Hickman

      It’s still a really good movie, but I expect 5-star movies from Fincher and considering how many top 10 lists the original made it onto, I expected it to be a 5-star story too. It’s really good, just a bit of a let-down.

  2. To tell you the truth Luke I didn’t much care for the ‘Bond’-style opening. It made absolutely zero sense considering the movie and the story’s message. Seemed like I was watching a NIN music video.

    • Wolvie

      Having just watched Fincher’s adaption, the similarities to a NIN music video make sense. Trent Reznor also scored Fincher’s “The Social Network” and in this one, we see one of the characters wearing a NIN t-shirt. If you’re a fan, check out the movie soundtrack which contains 3 CDs.

  3. Wolvie

    Luke, you should watch the original Swedish version if you’re intrigued about Lisbeth’s past history. Not the 2009 edited version, but the 2010 extended edition. The American remake barely scratches the surface.

    Besides the first one, Columbia does plan to remake the other two movies in this trilogy. Whether Fincher will be directing remains to be seen, though I’d like to see him continue, along with the rest of the cast, for continuity’s sake.

    • Considering the underwhelming box office for Fincher’s film so far, I have a feeling that Sony/Columbia will table its plans to adapt the other two books.

      • Luke Hickman

        It will be interesting to track the performance of it at the box office. I don’t think it’s going to finish very well. I think the studio was aiming for an Oscar contender, but there are a lot better and more worthy films out there.

    • Disregarding box office numbers I don’t see how there’s a way to adapt the second book and do it justice with some of the stuff they put into this first movie. There’s some major developments in Fincher’s film that aren’t revealed until the second book, which have a huge bearing on the overall plot and Lisbeth’s history and character.