9 First Impressions of David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The notorious embargo on David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has officially been lifted, and thus you can expect a frenzied film-culture commentariat to weigh in with raves, rumblings and other reactions all day. Things are no different here, where a few first impressions are making the rounds.

Look for Stephanie Zacharek's full review closer to Dragon Tattoo's Dec. 21 release date, but in grand Movieline tradition, find herewith a few notes to consider ahead of next week. For the record, this is mostly spoiler-free; considering the blockbuster success of both Stieg Larsson's source novel and international audience for the original Swedish screen adaptation, I guess I could be a little more generous with plot specifics and scenarios. But seeing as I was unfamiliar with both, it's probably safest to assume you might be as well.

1. Daniel Craig's association aside, this is the most transfixing title sequence the James Bond franchise never had. Maybe Trent Reznor and Karen O can rig up a Led Zeppelin cover for Skyfall.

2. It looks cold! Like, really cold. Like, "How is Sweden habitable?" cold. I don't think there's any CGI breath on this one, though maybe the technology has improved since The Social Network. Either way, the atmosphere is extraordinary throughout, even in the thaw.

3. For a guy who's always evinced a general impatience with and/or disdain for the news media while promoting his work, Fincher has an almost fetishistic eye for journalistic procedure. Dragon Tattoo presents a much more glamorized presentation than that of Zodiac, even going so far as to show disgraced-reporter-turned-investigator Mikael Blomqvist as a guy happily dallying with his married publisher and cavorting intimately with Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the punked-out bisexual hacker with whom he partners to crack a series of unsolved murders. Still! Fincher gets these guys and their obsessions. Or at least it looks like he's trying to.

4. That Stellan Skarsgård sure pours one menacing bottle of wine.

5. Again, I haven't seen director Niel Arden Oplev's earlier adaptation, but the general consensus toward that film seems to be that Lisbeth's rape and her comeuppance are shockingly graphic -- necessarily so to understand the depth of the character's lifelong pain and fury. For those worried that the American remake will sanitize and thus dilute these events? Don't be. I have never seen a more graphic, harrowing and violent rape-revenge scenario in a mainstream Hollywood film. It may actually go too far, if only because of the vast emotional distance that Lisbeth has to make up in the remainder of screenwriter Steven Zaillian's adaptation. That said, the adaptation is looong at 158 minutes, and...

6. Mara pulls it off. She's pretty damned good in this. Everyone is, really (Christopher Plummer reinforces his already redoubtable Oscar positioning, and Fincher knows exactly how to use Joely Richardson), but Mara doesn't shape-shift and skulk and scowl so much as give us a young woman stranded at the farthest edge of modernity, eyes darting constantly back into the pitch-black abyss in which she's taught to believe she belongs. Her Lisbeth comes most alive in those fragments of seconds when she seems capable of -- even constructed from -- anything.

7. Maybe I've just seen too many Bergman films, but I didn't know 1966-era Sweden could practically be as mediated by photography as latter-day America. I mean, did everyone really take that many pictures back then, with even the crappy ones making it into photo albums hanging around early half a century later?

8. Enya better have gotten paid well for that music cue, because I don't know if anyone who sees this can sit still for "Orinoco Flow" again.

9. I get the nihilistic novelty of marketing Dragon Tattoo as "the Feel-Bad Movie of Christmas," yet I found the film strangely uplifting. And I'm depressed about everything! The ending might not be optimal for at least one character, but hey -- we've got two more movies in the series. The only person who'll likely feel bad about this one is David Denby. I don't know, though, you tell me.

Return next week for Stephanie Zacharek's full review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and read all of Movieline's coverage of the film here.


  • AS says:

    God love ya Vanairsdale! Not 5 minutes past 12:00 a.m. and you've already got your impressions posted. Well, as a hardcore Fincher fanatic, its much appreciated.

  • The WInchester says:

    But how does it compare to the Daldry?

  • Anon Anon says:

    "I have never seen a more graphic, harrowing and violent rape-revenge scenario in a mainstream Hollywood film." Oh boy, then you should DEFINITELY not watch the Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo. Fincher's version is not as brutal or as prolonged. The Swedish version of the rape scenes will have you wanting to wreck some vengeance on your own.

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Curious to see Mara's Lisbeth, but Noomi Rapace absolutely killed it in the Swedish film. And boy was that film brutal.

  • KevyB says:

    Okay, just to be picky, but it should be "How is Sweden habitable?" not INhabitable. That said, it's not that bad. Lows in winter are rarely below 20. That's above zero. Similar to Boston, Salt Lake City or Chicago. It's actually warmer in winter than in Denver, St Paul or Santa Fe. We won't even get into North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Michigan, etc.

  • Thanks. Obviously there are colder places, and obviously people live in Sweden, so it's habitable. I'm just saying Fincher creates an atmosphere of insufferable coldness that adds much to the film.

  • My point isn't that I can't watch it or which scene is more extreme. It's that people who thought Fincher and the studio would soften or sanitize both the rape _and_ the revenge elements -- thus underrepresenting a crucial character dynamic for Lisbeth -- should give them more credit. They went as far as I've seen anyone go with an R rating.

  • Thanks for reading! Hope you like the film...

  • Jeni says:

    How can you seriously write a review for a movie when you can't answer the 1 obvious question that most people will have: How does it compare to the Original Swedish version? I can't even bear to finish reading the rest of the review now. Lame. Really. Pshh.

  • AS says:

    Well, if you actually read the article you'd know that it's NOT a review. Merely impressions. You'd also know that the official review will be written by SZ at a later date.

  • scouter119 says:

    do yourself a favor - watch the original version!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Beverly says:

    I read the books, but I didn't see the original version. I guess I'll have to check it out. I saw this version on http://b4releasemovies.com

  • Jonathan says:

    I read the books and saw the original film (which put me to sleep). Rapace is compelling enough but she was so far from the Salander in the books that I couldn't connect with it at all. Mara looks like she did her homework and recreated the character in the novel. I'm a little nervous about the changed ending however (and nobody remembers that the ending in the Swedish version was also different slightly with the character of Anita). I guess a change won't be bad unless Harriet's fate isn't the same as in the book. That would piss me off.

  • KevyB says:

    True, but isn't it a bit stereotypical to make it seem even worse than it really is? NOBODY IN AMERICA WILL UNDERSTAND HOW COLD IT IS!!! Meanwhile in Swedish films, yeah, there's snow on the ground, and you can see people's breath, but it isn't like everybody's three days from pneumonia. And I don't recall the weather even mentioned much in the book. I just hope it doesn't become another character because it's completely and utterly unimportant in the scheme of things.

  • Charles says:

    Well, I know Stephanie didn't like the original Swedish movie. And I know she didn't care for David Fincher's work before "Benjamin Button" -- i.e., his movies that are very much in this vein. So I'm really looking forward to seeing her review, if only to see whether it will go as I expect.
    Btw, I can't imagine the movie living up to the sensational theatrical trailer that was set to "Immigrant Song." That thing practically knocked you out all by itself.