'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo': What the Critics Are Saying

Daniel Craig - Movie Still: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - H - 2011
Sony Pictures

While box office receipts will be good, "it will be interesting to gauge if 'Tattoo' is still as major a part of the zeitgest as it was a year or two ago," one reviewer opines.

The upcoming U.S. version of The Girl of the Dragon Tattoo -- which was previously made into a trilogy in Sweden starring Noomi Rapace, who will be seen in the new Sherlock Holmes sequel -- hits theaters on Dec. 21 and the reviews have been trickling in days after a public battle between producer Scott Rudin and film reviewer David Denby of The New Yorker about embargo breaks.

Directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, the film follows Mikael Blomkvist's (Craig) search for a girl who has been missing for decades and enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander.

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The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy praised Fincher's adaptation of the best-selling novel by Stieg Larsson of the same name, writing, "This fastidious, technically stellar Hollywood telling of one of the great literary sensations of recent times is highlighted by a bewitching performance from Rooney Mara as the punked-out computer research whiz Lisbeth Salander and remains an absorbing story," but noted that that even a director like Fincher could not add anything extra.

McCarthy observed that the story unfolds in a predictable way and Fincher loyalists may not find Dragon Tattoo to be as disturbing as the director's previous projects. While box office receipts "will certainly be big ... it will be interesting to gauge if Tattoo is still as major a part of the zeitgeist as it was a year or two ago," McCarthy says.

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The Associated Press' David Germain gave an equally positive review, calling Fincher's redo a stark "but enthralling adaptation." Comparing it to 2009's Rapace-led Swedish film, Germain declared Fincher's "Dragon Tattoo is even bleaker than the 2009 Swedish-language hit." He was sold on the movie from the get-go, being frank in saying that Dragon Tattoo "kicks ass."

Germain did have one gripe, however minor: "The film could stand some surgery to nip away at the excessive, repetitive sequences of discovery as Lisbeth and Mikael endlessly scan old photos, files and newspaper clippings. We get that they're ace researchers; we don't need to see so much of the paperwork."

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Denby, who caused a fuss when his review of Fincher's film was published days before it was set to, spotlighted Mara's breakout performance as Lisbeth. "Mara cuts through scene after scene like a swift, dark blade," he writes, adding that "Mara makes every scene that she appears in jump. ... It's Mara's shot at stardom, and [Craig as Blomkvist] lets her have it."

HitFix's Drew McWeeny had a similar take to McCarthy, saying that although the movie was visually beautiful, in the drama department, lacked. "It is gorgeous, and I feel like you could pull almost any frame of the film out as a stand-alone work of art thanks to the contributions of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth," McWeeny writes, calling Dragon Tatoo "sensational" on its technical merits.

And though McWeeny admitted that by the end of the nearly three-hour saga, he "felt absolutely nothing for this film," it could have been due to his simply not liking the novels and the Swedish trilogy. "And my sum total reaction to all of it is, 'Okay. That's nice. I don't get it,' " he concludes. McWeeny opines a few sentences later: "I think Fincher's version is the most clinical, and as a result, I felt like the "dirty" sort of doesn't register at all."

Not everyone was buying into Fincher's take. Slant Magazine's Ed Gonzalez gave the American remake two and a half stars and began his review by comparing the Swedish films to Fincher's: "The difference between Niels Arden Oplev's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and David Fincher's own is not, as some might have hoped, the difference between night and day, but between curdled milk and a warmed-over holiday second."

Gonzalez went so far as to say: "Only a complete reimagining of Larrson's text might have given any of its film adaptations real value." And he hypothesized that Mara "seems to take Lisbeth more seriously than Fincher, who has a good laugh at the character's expense in one scene by shooting her in a shirt that raeds 'F--- You You F---ing F---,' " ultimately concluding that the story of Dragon Tattoo is "really nothing more than the story of girls running to and from their daddies and no matter how you dress it up, it's inherently retrograde."