The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: 4 talking points

The early reviews are in, and critics are hailing Rooney Mara's star-making turn as tattooed hacker Lisbeth Salander

Rooney Mara's gutsy performance as gothic hacker Lisbeth Salander is the most captivating part of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," critics say.
(Image credit: Facebook/The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, one of the holiday season's most anticipated films, doesn't come out until next week. But the reviews are already coming in, and critics are split on the blockbuster from Oscar-nominated director David Fincher (The Social Network). The film is based on the first book in Stieg Larsson's massively popular "Millennium" trilogy, which was already made into a well-received Swedish-language film. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a brutally dark tale that follows a journalist and computer hacker through a gruesome murder investigation. (Watch the trailer here.) Here, four talking points from early reviews of the film:

1. Rooney Mara delivers a star-making performance

"You can't take your eyes off Rooney Mara" as tattooed hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander, says David Denby in The New Yorker. "Slender, sheathed in black leather, with short ebony hair standing up in a tuft, her fingers poking out of black woolen gloves as they skitter across a laptop keyboard, [she] cuts through scene after scene like a swift, dark blade." Indeed, she has a "hypnotic presence," says Justin Chang at Variety. "Mara has [taken] this highly nonverbal character," says Drew McWeeny at HitFix, "and she's given her a very clear physical language that the audience can read."

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2. But it's not Fincher's best work

The movie "marks an odd milestone" in Fincher's celebrated career, says Robbie Collin at Britain's Telegraph. "It's the first of his films that feels beneath him," and "the essential flimsiness of Larsson's million-selling whodunit is all too visible." I wish Fincher had gone "pulpier," says McWeeny. As is, "it's like reading something that someone has overthought, a book they edited too many times." Sadly, fans of the brilliant director will find "that the strongest hint you'll see of his voice is the opening title sequence."

3. The source material has major flaws

"For all the fetishistic attention Fincher and his crew lavish on every gruesome forensic detail, they're unable to transmute Larsson's rudimentary mystery plotting into something more than pop-lit fare," says Chang. Let's be honest, says McWeeny. The novels are just "okay supermarket checkout read on an airplane sort of books." So "perhaps unavoidably, it's the source material itself that trips the film up," says Collin. And "the notorious scenes of graphic sexual abuse prove to be a major stumbling block."

4. It may be better than the Swedish version

"If anything, [Fincher's] Dragon Tattoo is even bleaker than the 2009 Swedish-language hit," says David Germain for the Associated Press. True, it's "a considerably slicker and more sophisticated piece of film craft than the Swedish production or either of its Nordic TV sequels," says Chang. And, Mara "hints at a vulnerability in Lisbeth that Noomi Rapace never got to convey in the first Dragon Tattoo," says Ed Gonzalez at Slant Magazine. Still, "only a complete re-imagining of Larsson's text might have given any of its film adaptations real value," and the difference between the two versions is like that "between curdled milk and a warmed-over holiday second."

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for The Daily Beast. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at and a writer and producer for's entertainment vertical. He is only mildly embarrassed by the fact that he still watches Glee.