‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated December 12th, 2014 at 9:26 pm,

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara Lisbeth Salander The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will deliver a compelling ride for die-hard fans of the book series, dramatic thriller enthusiasts, as well as anyone who enjoys Fincher’s darker works.

The first installment in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Series,” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made its English debut in 2008 (the original Swedish novel was published in 2005). As the book was gaining momentum in America, production on a Swedish film adaptation from director Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) as leading lady Lisbeth Salander, was nearing completion – and would open to critical acclaim from international and American critics alike.

As a result, it came as somewhat of a surprise that despite the success of the series, fan-favorite director, David Fincher (The Social Network) was gearing-up for his own adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fans of Oplev’s film quickly dismissed Fincher’s attempt as an unnecessary American cash grab – while other moviegoers anxiously awaited what the celebrated auteur would bring to his own interpretation. Now that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is officially available in theaters – can film fans just dismiss the American version or has Fincher managed to deliver yet another critical and commercial darling?

Fortunately, Fincher’s interpretation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t just a worthy adaptation of Larsson’s novel – it’s a beautifully shot, gripping, and disturbing film with terrific performances from nearly every actor and actress involved. While some film fans and Millennium readers might prefer the Swedish version, it’s impossible to outright dismiss Fincher’s film – as his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is potentially one of the most captivating films of 2011.

Source material purists will be relieved to know that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo pulls double-duty – managing to succeed at staying true to the source material while still offering an intriguing and provocative film experience. Adaptations often have a difficult time with this balancing act and land farther on one side of the fence than the other – resulting in a chapter-by-chapter recreation (and a boring or convoluted film) or a serviceable movie experience that’s too far removed from the source material (and unrecognizable to fans). Fincher once again proves he’s deft at whittling a printed book down to its bare essentials (similar to his approach with Fight Club) and presents a tremendous amount of exposition through quick onscreen cuts and smart behind-the-scenes editing. As a result, despite serving two main characters (who don’t actually join forces until halfway through the film), as well as a flock of unique side-characters, Fincher manages to provide the audience with fascinating human drama and an exciting mystery throughout.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Lisbeth Salander Mikael Blomkvist The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

For non-Millenium series readers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduces the character of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an anti-social punk investigator/hacker type who lives paycheck to paycheck at the mercy of her state guardian – until she is pulled into a dangerous investigation by a disgraced investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). Blomkvist has been hired by wealthy businessman Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the unsolved case of his missing niece, Harriet, who unexpectedly disappeared forty years ago. However, as the pair dig into the Vanger estate history, disgruntled family members and disturbing revelations don’t just complicate the case of missing Harriet – they outright threaten Blomkvist and Salander’s lives.

Film fans who haven’t been following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo production may recognize star, Rooney Mara, as Erica Albright from the opening scene in Fincher’s The Social Network. Mara was responsible for one of the most captivating scenes in the “Facebook movie” but her exchange with Jessie Eisenberg is only a precursor to the physical and psychological transformation the young actress underwent to embody Lisbeth Salander – and it shows. While Daniel Craig is excellent as Blomkvist, along with a star-studded cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright, and Geraldine James, there’s no doubt that Mara provides one of the most nuanced performances that movie fans will see this year (or possibly, ever). Together, Fincher and Mara don’t pull any punches and thrust their Salander into  some truly horrifying circumstances and Mara never falters in her depiction – even managing to keep the character grounded in some especially challenging scenes.

While the film’s two hour and 38 minute run-time is likely to turn off some moviegoers who don’t enjoy sitting that long for one movie in a theater, it’s hard to imagine any onscreen scene or exchange that doesn’t belong in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The movie avoids following a standard pacing structure (it includes lengthy prologue and epilogue sequences) and sometimes dwells on story elements that aren’t related to the primary mystery of Harriet’s disappearance. However, even Fincher’s side-arc character drama manages to stay compelling – and it’s unlikely that many audience members will ever find themselves bored or waiting for something to happen.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Daniel Craig The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) searching for answers

Similarly, as anyone familiar with the book series can attest, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a simple murder-mystery that features damaged but ultimately cheery characters. The novel, as well as the 2011 film are very dark – and plumb some especially disturbing depths (think Fincher’s Se7en). In particular, one scene of sexual violence is exceptionally graphic and could be extremely disturbing to sensitive viewers. In addition, while a number of plot elements do get wrapped up, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is part of a larger trilogy – and withholds a lot of information in the interest of future installments (The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest). The main Vanger story comes to a sharp conclusion but less patient moviegoers will have to wait for future installments to really get to know the characters – and it’s possible that some viewers will get weighed down by the bleak and claustrophobic onscreen world that Fincher and his team have created.

Given the lengthy run-time, oppressive tone, and obvious withholdings for future installments, some moviegoers could have a difficult time with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and, instead, might find a slightly less abrasive experience with the Swedish version (though Oplev’s version does present similar challenges). That said, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is without question one of the most provocative films of 2011 – and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will deliver a compelling ride for die-hard fans of the book series, dramatic thriller enthusiasts, as well as anyone who enjoys Fincher’s darker works.

If you’re still on the fence about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, check out the trailer below:


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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now in theaters.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

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  1. I didn’t read the review Ben because I didn’t want to know ANYTHING more about than I do. But the 4.5 rating reinforces my belief in it being a great movie. After I see I’ll come back and read it. :)

    BTW, I know you all do a good job of reviewing without spoilers, but I want to go into this one fresh without opinions from anyone other than a score.

  2. I have to see this movie.

    • watch the european versions,the u.s. must always copying every good movie from europe. we dont do that with your movies,or do we have an captain europe or a european superman?

      • Your jealousy (or hate) of America is REALLY beginning to shine through when I start adding up all of your posts.

      • We Europeans don´t have Superman or Captain Europe because our movie industry and cultures are completely different from the US counterparts.

        Even if many US remakes of European “originals” might be considered to be obsolete, the European versions quite often are simply not using “universal language” – and this unfortunately by all meanings: pictures, sounds, verbal and non-verbal communication, body language… name whatever you want. They are made for a local audience, local taste and using local tonality and looks. Imho, US movies are on a more “universal” side by all meanings. And in most cases, they are simply made much, much better.

        While the US movie industry produces like 3 or 4 really great movies a year, Europe reaches that number only in a decade. The majority of average movies made by the American movie industry is still watchable, even if quite a big portion of the output is just rubbish. In Europe, the vast majority of movies are unwatchable, made for a non-existing elite, and in many cases just a pure waste of money. My 2 cents only.

        David Fincher happens to be a director who works in the US, but different to others, he does not take the source material into an American setting, and as you can read, his work is more faithful to the source material than the European version you claim to be better. After having had the pleasure to watch other Fincher movies, I do look forward to go to the cinema to enjoy another masterpiece of him.

        • You might be right about the movies. I really haven’t seen all that many of them. But since BBC America I’ve really learned how much better most of the BBC series are than the American versions. I think part of that for me is that BBC drama has actors and settings that actually reflect reality. The towns aren’t full of under 30 year old people who look like models. That and there’s often more humanity than sensationalism in the story lines. My number one complaint with BBC series is…They’re too damn short…

  3. I was very curious to see how it would do – now I will definitely check it out. Thanks Ben!

  4. Saw it last night and it was awesome! I wonder if it will get any award momentum given the nature of some of the scenes. I was a fan of the Swedish films and was glad that Fincher was able to pull this off, hopefully he signs on for the next two! And I think I have developed a thing for industrial/goth chicks after seeing both Rapace and Mara portray Salander. :-)

  5. I’m dismissing Fincher’s film. Oops, guess it wasn’t that impossible was it?

    Look, I’m sure Fincher did a great job, but you know what he did? Nothing. He copied another movie. The three Swedish films are completely amazing in their design and production. Noomi Rapace owned that film and the fact that I had to read the subtitles didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t see a reason, and still do not see a reason to remake it. If you can’t handle subtitles, then listen to the dubbed version.

    Hollywood thinks they can take a great foreign film and make it better. Wrong. While they did manage a few hits (The Departed, Birdcage) they usually end up being shadows of the original. LET ME IN, was one. I just watched it and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was much better. POINT OF NO RETURN was disgraceful compared to the original NIKITA.

    So, yeah, I’m sure it will be critically acclaimed and Roger Ebert will give it a thumb-up and blah blah blah… So what? That doesn’t make it a good film. And it certainly doesn’t make it better than the original. So, I’ll skip it, yes, dismiss it, and go watch something else. Something I haven’t seen before. Certainly something I haven’t already seen in just the last year.

    • But how do you know it’s not better unless you see it? From what I have read, this is not a remake of the Swedish film, it is an adaptation of the novel; and I have also read that it is better than the Swedish film.

      • Watch the Swede film first.

        • I’ve seen the Swedish versions, and read the books, Fischer’s looks a lot better IMO.

          • read the novel, seen the swede version. fincher’s IS better

          • I’ve seen the Swedish version, with subtitles. It was fantastic. I’ll be seeing Fincher’s tonight or tomorrow. I’ll post my reaction then, but what I can say is that Kahless is right on one thing for sure. This is an adaptation of the book, not the movie.

            Fincher and his writers, reportedly, haven’t seen the Swedish film versions so that they wouldn’t be influenced in their recreation of the story. But like I said, I’ll be seeing the movie today or tomorrow and I’ll come back with a reaction then.

            • Saw the film and I liked it. I favor Noomi Rapace’s performance as Lisbeth Salander over Rooney Mara’s, but I like Daniel Craig better as Michael Blomkvist (I think I misspelled his name). The film is beautifully shot, and it’s told very well. I’m honestly not sure which I liked better on a whole, but there were definately things I liked more in the Swedish version. Salander was more impressive in the Swedish version for me, but I think that that’s just because the film exhibited a more intimate look at Salander in action. Her hacking prowess was definately exhibited in the American version, but… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain having only seen either version once, but I think it has to do with Rapace’s performance. Mara was very very good though.

    • Its ridiculous to simply dismiss a film, especially for the reasons you gave. I’d understand if it was a shot for shot remake, but its not. Its another artists interpretation of the novel. And with that, by your standards, you should dismiss the Swedish film because its simply a remake of the novel. You’re attempting to sound like some wise elitist, but only coming off pretentious.

    • sorry man…can’t seem to make out what you’re saying from all the way down here.
      maybe take a step down off of that high-horse?
      Isnt dismissing an american remake simply because it’s an american remake just as bad as dismissing the sweddish film just because it’s a swedish film just as bad?

    • Actually, the Swedish films aren’t even amazing. Well the first one is, but the sequels are another thing. The sequels were originally shot as a tv-series, and it really shows in the pacing and productionvalues.

    • The base of both versions are the books by Stieg Larrson,so there must be similarities! But unlike the swedish version David Fincher stuck more to the books,and that’s why it’s worthwhile to go and see it! And the fact that he allways delivers fantastic work counts for something,don’t you think?

  6. I was going to wait until Christmas night to see this but a clearing in the schedule has made room to see it tonight. This is my most anticipated movie of 2011. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

  7. Seeing it later today!

  8. Went to see this movie last night. I read the trilogy about three times and watched the Swedish version the same amount of times. Though I found the Swedish version entertaining, it seriously deviated from the book – not only from the plot, but the characters as well. Fincher, however, did an awesome job with sticking to the novel. The novel itself was so clunky with details, but Fincher successfully captured all of Larsson’s blockiness in the time alloted. Doing so, the movie felt so compressed and fastpaced. I’m afraid those who haven’t read the books might find it hard to follow without watching it several times. Seriously a test of your attention span because if you blink at the wrong moment, you’d miss a detail. Though he strayed from the orginal ending, it was still ingenius.

  9. I just finished watching the Swedish series the other day and really enjoyed it – except for the drop-off ending.

    I’m looking forward to this interpretation now that it’s gotten some decent reviews behind it.

  10. So for those that have seen both version… Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara? Which one wins the overall tittle of best Salander characterization?

    • Rapace because I think she’s absolutely gorgeous. Mara because she perfectly depicted Salander’s character, looks and insanity.

  11. saw the original trilogy on a back-to-back marathon.

    will be watching this tomorrow. if its as good as the Swedish films ill be waiting for the sequels to come out sooner than later.

    BTW, do you think the audience will accept a movie with a foreign setting and characters with a repulsive [for most general audience] lead enough to make money for the studio to invest in the sequels?

  12. damn good movie. i put it up there with silence of the lambs, maybe even better.

  13. Someone please tell me: how crisp was the picture? This thing is being shot with Red EPICs right? Anyone notice a difference?

    • That might be why I thought the picture looked a little weird in some shots, I thought it looked great. Look for the shot of Salender on the motorcycle behind her head for an example of what I was talking about.

      • Yeah, I remember that. It was when

        **spoiler for those who haven’t seen the movie**

        she was heading over to put her social worker in check.

        ** end spoiler**

        Thanks for responding.

    • what was wrong with the ending? it was made to lead up to the second part of the trilogy.

  14. I just got back from seeing it. I saw the Swedisg movies, and then read the first book (I have yet to read the other two). This movie is quite a bit better than the Swedish one, excellent movie. It’s better in pretty much every way, some aspects a LOT better.

  15. I saw the movie last night with my wife and it was bad ass. My wife read all the books and watched all the Sweedish versions, and she said that Fincher’s version is the closest to the book. Let’s put it this way, this movie makes me want to go read the whole trilogy. It was that good, very character driven, never a dull moment.

    Also, the opening sequence was the best I’ve seen since the Casino Royale opening titles.

    • I’m glad you brought up that opening sequence, I too agree that it was just excellent. I found it a little bizarre at first, but with Reznor’s blaring, energetic version of ‘Immigrant Song’ I couldn’t help but just sit back and drink everything in.

  16. Good but would have been very good if Fincher got 20 mintues out of its bloated running time. Mara is great bordering on brilliant. I saw it at a Cinemark digital projection theater and it looked stunningly good.

  17. I swear to god, I am beyond tired of people saying this is a remake of the Swedish films – IT’S A SEPERATE ADAPTATION OF THE BOOK. I remember this happening also back in 2005, when Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released. People kept wrongfully accusing it to be a remake of the 1971 film (which it wasn’t, it was also a seperate, and, for the record, far more faithful adaptation).

    Even the director of the first Swedish film has said this is a remake. Wake up, people.

    Very glad to see it get such a high rating here – 4.5/5.

    • not sure how the swede director can make that claim being that fincher never seen the swede version.

  18. trolls gotta troll, haters gotta hate. some people are such elitists that they put so much belief in every self serving thing they say or write, and HOW DARE you disagree with them. if fincher claims to have never watched the swedish films, then how can you call this a “remake”? unless someone has proof he watched them, (and i doubt he ever has time to watch anything)then you have no legitimate argument. lawyer’d!

  19. This seemed like the film David Fincher always wanted to make. It had the completely separate, computer generated title sequence seen in Fight Club, the dark and twisted murder mystery of Se7en and Zodiac, as well as the incredible soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross heard in The Social Network. And all of this is tied together with the gorgeous cinematography for which he’s know for. This movie is truly a must see for any David Fincher fan.

  20. Damn good book, even better movie.

  21. Amazingly well done and it follows much closer to the book. It’s a very rapid paced slow movie. The cast is great, and the sound of the movie is AMAZING. Obviously the subject matter is very brutal and I’m surprised that it did not get an NC17 rating. I would put it in my top 5 for sure. It’ is not a movie for everyone.

  22. I wasn’t sure if I would like this, but it was very good.

  23. Rooney Mara played Lisbeth Salander like Shirley Temple with a nose ring in comparison to the spot on performace of Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version. Good thing the first film is more about Bloomguist.

    • Are you kidding me? Noomi Rapace was good in the Swede version I myself from Sweden had low expectations for this film but I felt Mara Rooney was more true to the Lisabeth envisioned in the novels.

  24. I finally saw it last night. First I have to mention the title sequence. It was amazing and a reminder of Fincher’s days doing music videos. The film itself I’ll give 4 out of 5. The pace of the film was more like Zodiac than Seven and the performances were pretty great. Mara was fantastic as is most of the supporting cast. Craig was exactly what I expected, nothing amazing but not bad either. The only reason I give 4 rather than 5 stars is the length. Don’t get me wrong I have no problem sitting in a theater that long it’s just that the need to tie up other plot points at the end took away from the gravity of the ending of the central story of the film. I don’t blame Fincher for that because there are sequels to set up. But like Ben says in the review I can’t think of a moment that could have been taken out.

  25. I remember reading the first book halfway before seeing the original swedish movie, only so I could see how the mystery wraps up and both that and the first book are sweet. Retrospectively the original film comes across as an extended/feature-length episode of a crime series, especially in comparison to Fincher’s movie which feels more cinematic in scope. Also Mara’s performance as Lisbeth is more closer to how I imagined her to be in the first two book, as I found Noomi Rapace too distractingly sexy even under all the leather and makeup and easily passable as being in her early twenties. Mara on the other hand fit the character to a tee and the clothing as well as how her hair/makeup only added to a more convincing portrayal. I’m not dismissing Noomi Rapace or the original Swedish film at all, I am saying that Mara’s portrayal is more accurate and her and Fincher’s film more enthralling.

  26. To Screenrant writers at large –

    I know that you’re probably set in your ways of headlining all of your reviews as either/or questions, but in my mind that loses your website a lot of credibility. I’m sure you’re not so narrowminded as to think that there are only two possible outcomes for a new film, or that the possible outcomes are as specific as the ones that you always outline. I’m certain that you won’t change anything based on this one comment, but I guess I just wanted to let you know that I think it’s pretty stupid.

    I use your website a lot because I like it, especially for news. I am letting you know just because it has become a daily irritation. Consider it constructive criticism from a fairly loyal reader.

    • GingerChops,

      We ALWAYS appreciate civil, reasonable feedback. :)

      Actually you bring up a very good point – that has gotten a bit formulaic. Might need to address that.



  27. Had a ? for those that saw the film. I want to see it, as I was a big fan of the Swedish film and enjoy this film maker. One issue that I do have is for I have a really difficult time stomaching rape scenes, the really bother me (I’m so American I can handle a guy sawing off his own foot while eating a taco, but anything rape related I can’t sleep at night). Is this version more graphic in that sense or is it on par with the first film? It may decide if I see it or wait for DVD. Thanks.

    • On par with the swedish film but there’s a shower scene immediately after that might make you a tad quesy.

    • Its on par with the swedish film but there’s a shower scene immediately after that might make you a tad quesy.

    • IMO this version was harder to watch. Not that it’s ever easy but it was. This may or may not help you decide but after her visit to her Guardians apt and what took place a older couple left the theater I was in and didn’t return. I can’t say for sure the graphic nature of the scene was why but I think so.