April 16, 2014

David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – Our review – AWARDS ALLEY


Unlike David Denby, we waited until Sony took down their press embargo to post our review of David Fincher’s anticipated “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” a methodical adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel. If successful, it’s expected to kick-start an American version of the extremely popular Swedish trilogy (though no word yet if Fincher would return for subsequent installments). So, now that we’re able to discuss the film at length, here’s my review of Fincher’s latest:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (*** out of 4)
Yep, that’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

Audience members taking their first plunge into Stieg Larsson’s icy den of Swedish snakes likely will muster more enthusiasm. The 40-year-old missing-persons mystery and the captivatingly shocking personification of mythological anti-hero Lisbeth Salander should resonate with “Tattoo” virgins.

And really, isn’t that the point of Fincher’s film? To lure in patrons who’ve avoided Larsson’s pulpy launch of the “Millennium” trilogy or skipped the sufficient 2009 adaptation? Because the story driving Fincher’s latest is instantly recognizable to the millions who’ve either skimmed Larsson’s novel or watched the Swedish take. And while this new “Dragon” benefits from a tight squeeze through Fincher’s calculated, cold filter – and, you know, does away with those pesky subtitles — knowing the answers to the film’s sordid mysteries strips away most of the picture’s punch.

Hewing closer to Larsson’s book, Fincher moves a few set pieces around but still recounts the herculean efforts of besmirched journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to locate Harriet Vanger, who vanished off of her family’s island and was never seen again. Blomkvist’s investigation on behalf of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) eventually pairs him with gifted computer hacker Salander (Rooney Mara), and the two unearth the buried history of a serial killer who has quietly prayed on the Swedish countryside for decades.

But, of course, you likely knew this. “Girl” sold millions of copies, and Noomi Rapace’s transformation into the angel of vengeance that is Lisbeth propelled both the character and the actress to the forefront of our pop culture.

Fincher’s translation of Larsson’s material also embraces key themes that propped up the original book and movie. Actions have consequences. Murder, like film direction, is the science of a thousand details (and Fincher, as usual, masters nearly all of them). Men hate women, but occasionally, women fight back. The dark, abusive material can be tough to endure, especially when you know what’s coming, and are powerless to prevent it.

But “Tattoo” treads familiar waters for Fincher, as well. The director has been drawn to police procedurals in the past, with blistering results. He revels in exploring the link that exists between journalism and filmmaking, realizing that both are searches for a.) story, and b.) truth. In thre past, Fincher has determined that those searches usually are in vain, though Larsson doesn’t let him drift to such a dour conclusion here. Still, if one were to rank the director’s efforts in this specific genre, “Dragon Tattoo” lands below “Zodiac” (still Fincher’s masterpiece) and even “Seven,” which boasted a crucial element of surprise that – for me – was missing here.

And that’s the truth I can’t quite overcome. As much as I want to, I can’t see “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” for the first time again because I’m already intimately familiar with the novel and the foreign film. Fincher’s adaptation is solid. In spots, it’s excellent. Mara continues to show a depth we didn’t yet know that she possessed, and the technical aspects are top of the line. “Dragon Tattoo” does feel a little more commercial than Fincher’s past efforts, as if the intelligent director is slightly irritated that audiences aren’t embracing his masterful works so he’s pandering to them, slightly. The pace isn’t as crisp as we’d expect from Fincher, and select shots seem showy for showmanship sake – never the case with the director in the past.

But ultimately, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Fincher’s latest work except that the story’s been “worked” before. I understand why the film exists. And I acknowledge that this durable adaptation will appeal to newcomers still needing to be surprised. But I’m not 100% sure why Fincher felt the need to venture down this path, and I’d be disappointed if he continued with the franchise instead of circling back to original projects that are better suited to his unique voice and vision.

About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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One Comment

  • January 18, 2012 | Permalink |

    the first movie was wonderful. Especially the girl was a perfect player.

    Second movie was also perfect, Lisbeth was not as psycho as she was in the previous version… But still was good…

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