Early Word on ‘Dragon Tattoo': Relentlessly Exciting, But ‘Beneath’ David Fincher

Remake is strong and dark and cold and kinky — not a friendly awards-style movie by any means

Last Updated: December 14, 2011 @ 3:33 PM

We already know what David Denby thinks about David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," because the New Yorker critic broke an embargo and printed his review eight days early. And we know what producer Scott Rudin thinks of Denby's move: "lousy and immoral."

Rooney MaraWell, now we know what other people think about the movie, too. The "Dragon Tattoo" embargo lifted on Tuesday, and some critics immediately sprang into action, posting reviews at the stroke of midnight. (TheWrap's review will appear closer to the movie's Dec. 20 opening.)

Also read: Scott Rudin: New Yorker's Positive 'Dragon Tattoo' Review Is 'Lousy and Immoral'

And if a consensus emerged in the first round of reviews, it's that the movie is relentless and exciting, with great music and a standout performance by Rooney Mara.

As for Fincher: He does a good job adapting a book and remaking a movie that maybe didn't deserve to be adapted and/or remade by David Fincher.

In England, the Telegraph's Robbie Collin summed up this point of view in the first line of his review: "David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's pulp thriller 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' marks an odd milestone in his directorial career: It’s the first of his films that feels beneath him."

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For the record, I found the film to be strong and dark and cold and kinky – not a friendly awards-style movie by any means, but a tough, tense but overlong treatment of a book that had already been well-served by the 2009 Swedish film drawn from it.

Fincher's "Dragon Tattoo" might be colder and harsher than Niels Arden Oplev's version; Rooney Mara's Lisbeth Salander is certainly harder than Noomi Rapace's. The film has bracing, virtuosic sequences from start to finish, including the one-two punch of a whispered opening conversation going straight into a brutally stylish credit sequence set to Trent Reznor's and Karen O's roaring version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."

But it plays as Fincher's variation on something we've already seen, and it suffers from some of the pitfalls of Stieg Larsson's original novel. The story reaches what feels like its natural conclusion at about the two-hour mark, leaving more than half an hour of necessary but uninvolving anti-climax.

(Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian seem to know this, making a couple of significant changes to the book's ending in a moderately successful attempt to streamline the story.)

On the awards front, the question is whether the cold virtuosity of Fincher's treatment will strike a chord with voters; I suspect not, though this is a strange and wide-open year in which it still feels as if surprises could happen.

Also read'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' to Open a Day Early, to Beat the Yule Crush

As soon as the embargo lifted, others rushed into print with their verdicts. To Todd McCarthy, the film is "fastidious" and "technically stellar" – "but for all the skill brought to bear on it, the film offers no surprises in the way it's told … and little new juice to what, for some, will be the third go-round" with this story.

Justin Chang, meanwhile, predicted that the film will be Fincher's biggest commercial success. Tracing its flaws to Larsson's "rudimentary mystery plotting," he concluded that the film was skillful genre entetaiment: "As classy a film as could be made from Stieg Larsson's sordid page-turner, David Fincher's much-anticipated return to serial-killer territory is a fastidiously grim pulp entertainment that plays like a first-class train ride through progressively bleaker circles of hell."

The Associated Press' David Germain found the film to be "an ideal match of filmmaker and material," and then stated his thesis plainly. "[H]ere's the really good news: this movie kicks ass."

For Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere, the film is "a highly efficient, A-grade, gripping-as-far-as-it-goes deja vuexperience. It's a bit darker and very well acted all around (especially in terms of one crucial performance), and more atmospherically noirish in an almost luxurious, Hollywood-comes-to-Sweden sort of way. But these are attributes of efficiency rather than vision or art."

A huge supporter of Fincher and the movie, Sasha Stone ravedabout the themes: "[A] story about a female avenging those men who hate women is more relevant now that it never has been. In fact, it’s downright revolutionary." And she raved about Rooney Mara's performance as Lisbeth Salander. And about Trent Reznor's and Atticus Ross' music. And about the film, and the director: "Fincher is getting better and better as a storyteller, even if he’s stepped back from the dense vibrancy of grunge of his early career."

At HitFix, Drew McWeeny called the film "visually striking and dramatically dormant." His summary: "Purely judged on its technical merits, 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' is sensational, another example of just how much control Fincher is capable of exerting over every element of his films … So why is it that at the end of the two-hour 40-minute run time, I felt absolutely nothing for this film at all?"

And at Slant Magazine, Ed Gonzalez pretty much dismissed the film entirely: "Fincher's deliberate, rather perceptible 'reimaginings, compressions and reductions' of the novel's lurid, soap-operatic plot, which is rife with the familiar intrigue—and then some—of your average mass market paperback … can't elevate trash to art."

Finally, Kris Tapley at In Contention is widely known to be a harsh critic of the film, which he thinks is Fincher's worst. But his only comment so far has been to say, "I have no desire to write about it."