Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is Quite the Swedish Dish

Like Ikea, David Fincher's kinda-Swedish product is entirely unnecessary, often overwhelming and missing a few pegs, but is, nevertheless, compelling and fairly priced

df 19666 Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is Quite the Swedish Dish

Mara and Craig.

In the blood-soaked hands of the hair-raising, always surprising director David Fincher, the creepy remake of Sweden’s grisly thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is dreary and confusing but technically superb—a darkly photographed and superbly acted film. It is not my cup of bitter tea laced with arsenic, but I admire its tenacity in keeping the viewer dazzled, while the toxic effect of its violence, sometimes unwatchable, left me charged. I hated the 2009 Swedish film version, my dashed attempt to read the book (the first volume in the crime trilogy by the late, overrated Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson) put me to sleep faster than a double-dose of Dalmane, and I still don’t understand why it has been recycled in an estimated $100 million remake as unnecessary as it is unoriginal. It is also impossibly long-winded. When it ended, after just under a whopping three hours, I ended up impressed, in spite of my reservations. If I had found it even half as incomprehensible as it is, I might have liked it twice as much.

Oh, my god, that plot. After being investigated for making licentious mistakes in fact-checking a magazine profile that causes a scandal, the controversial, complicated and egotistical journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) loses his job, apartment, moral compass and most of his sanity. Then he spends the rest of this interminable, head-scratching thriller trying not to lose his life and everything below his gym-ready waistline and above his walnut-cracking thighs in one scene of nasty brutality after another. He’s crafty, but he’s also a two-fisted fool for getting recruited by Swedish industrial tycoon Henrik Vanger (a wasted Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet, who disappeared 40 years ago from a family reunion on a sinister island with an unpronounceable name off the coast of Sweden. The case was never solved, but Vanger believes she was murdered by a member of his own dysfunctional family. Here the brain-twisting plot begins to get delusional. As the reporter begins to unravel multiplying clues, he tracks down and hires Lisbeth Salander (newcomer Rooney Mara), a chain-smoking, motorcycle-riding Goth lesbian computer hacker shrouded in black leather whose invasion of his hard drive reveals the errors that have tanked his career. This zombie is a real creep workout, replete with body piercings, a dragon tattoo that encircles her body and more rings around her eyes than a rabid raccoon.

Sharing a deserted cottage by the sea in a gray, frozen Swedish winter, the reporter and his freaked-out researcher, equipped with his-and-her laptops, dig up newspaper reports from the year Harriet disappeared, connecting an entire series of homicides, and before you can yell “Holy Whitechapel Ripper!” the Vanders turn out to be a whole family of serial killers! There’s Henrik’s brother, a Nazi who died in 1940, and the brother’s son, Gottfried, and grandson, Martin (Stellan Skarsgård), the latter two of whom continually raped and sodomized Harriet, Martin’s sister, who moved to Australia and is living under the assumed name of her cousin Anita. It takes an hour and a half before the two stars of this bizarre puzzle meet and he hires her to look up all the other women who have been murdered under similar circumstances, all raped and killed, all with names from the Bible and linked by verses from Leviticus. Then, under pressure, they end up in bed in a savage sexual fury—an unconvincing twist, since Lisbeth has endured a lifetime of rape and sexual torture herself, and despises men. (We’ve just seen her sewing up an eye with dental floss, tying up a victim and tattooing “I AM A RAPIST PIG” on his chest with a carving knife.) Reckless, hostile and pretty close to being a serial killer herself, she’s seriously damaged, exacting gruesome revenge on anyone who crosses her, but when it comes to her boss, she melts, saving a naked Mr. Craig from an unbearably convincing basement torture chamber that leaves nothing to the imagination.

I’m a big fan of the kind of sleaze and terror David Fincher is famous for (think Se7en and Fight Club) and this is no exception. The great screenwriter Steven Zaillian’s elaborate, convoluted script, so muddled that even after it’s over you still don’t know what it’s all about, is a drawback—but the movie is a master class in sinister style, tense and deeply uncomfortable. The cold Swedish dreamscape of blackness is so effective that sometimes you feel like you need a flashlight. Mr. Fincher also knows how to bring out the fearlessness in actors. As James Bond, Mr. Craig is a terrific mixture of sarcastic charm and sartorial splendor, in or out of the sack, but when the role calls for something darker, he’s equally well equipped. Mr. Skarsgård is especially scary because of the sheer exploitation of power with which he manipulates people under the guise of polite, amiable calm—making his later scenes from friendly to ferocious doubly shocking. Ms. Mara is a damaged ferret, her eyes darting, her tongue rubbing her stapled lips as she helps the mentally distraught reporter try to make sense of a deepening mystery. It all adds up to a noxious brew of teeth-grinding, knuckle-whitening brutality. Merry Christmas to you, too.


Running time 158 minutes

Written by Steven Zaillian and Stieg Larsson

Directed by David Fincher

Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Stellan Skarsgård



  1. Jack Sommersby says:

    — “I’m a big fan of the kind of sleaze and terror David Fincher is famous for (think Se7en and Fight Club)” —

    Heh! Well, Rex, while you did highly recommend “Se7en” back then (power to you: I still think it was the best film of its year), let’s also remember that you named “Fight Club” the worst film of 1999!

  2. Way to give away the entire plot…if I hadn’t read the books and seen the Swedish film I’d be kind of pissed…lol

    1. Guest says:


      I have to confess that I don’t typically read your reviews, so I dont know if it is standard for you, Rex Reed, but how can you give away the entire plot of a movie and reveal the killer in your review?  Nobody wants a recap of everything that happened.

  3. “Lisbeth has endured a lifetime of rape and sexual torture herself, and despises men”, no she doesn’t, she only despises  MEN WHO HATE WOMEN that is the original title of the book.  Would you say the way she treated Bjurman was sadist? then you are not too different from the kind of men described in the book. There was a reason for her revenge.I think, no offense, you totally misunderstood Lisbeth’s character she’s not even close  a serial killer, you really should read the book, skip the first two chapters , those are boring because they talk about Swedish political stuff.

  4. Jack Sommersby says:

    Yeah, I have to agree, Rex. I like your stuff, always have (you were one of the reasons I decided to write film criticism), but you gave away *way* too much, pal. I’d read the book so you didn’t spoil anything for me, but for non-readers and those who haven’t seen the foreign version, you spoiled a lot of stuff.

  5. Markkoslosky says:

    Excellent review Rex.  I have wanted to savor this film for months.  All the dark texture I may
    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  6. Gabrielg Severo says:

    holy shit, why give away the intire plot in a review?

    thank god i read the book, but you were an asshole for doing that.

  7. Haven Hamilton says:

    Like most of your writing, Rex, this was oversimplified and prepackaged to better fit your obviously predetermined dislikes about what you think the film will be like.

    And aside from your giving away of the ENTIRE PLOT- you barely scratched the thematic/narrative connection between Lisbeth and Harriet, choosing rather to make static the pulpy physical characteristics that make the former such a distinctive hero.

    Such is the state of film criticism though, where half-clever quippery and exagerrated black&white judgment make up reviews, rather than a more complex digestion that a project like this demands.

  8. Terri6465 says:

    After reading the books, I agree with overrated. You have to wonder if the author is also pandering to the public love of violence to women at the same time that his characters are said to abhor it.

  9. Harryzulu says:

    …relax people…the plot is hardly “given away”.  This is ancient history.  The woefully over-rated books and subsequent films have been discussed ad nauseum.  Where have you been the last 3 years???

  10. I can’t say I liked this movie. It was so over blown that I kept thinking I was missing some deep seated Swedish theme or something political about the Swedish government that I just missed.

    1. MjK says:

      Yes. I so like the character, but think the material is difficult for a movie. The investigative aspects are confusing and boring. At one point, it’s silly; the score is something like the Jeopardy ditty on the big final question as a montage of scenes is presented.  – But there’ll be a second one, and I’ll see it. I so like the character. 

  11. Roastbeef says:

    She doesn’t write “I AM A RAPIST PIG’ with a carving knife, she tattoos it in a protracted, memorable scene. I’m not sure how you got that detail wrong, but it goes a long way to explain how you misunderstood her character as others have said.

  12. Mmelantc says:

    This is not a review. This is a spoiler of a synopsis. If I were looking for a review because I wanted to find out if a movie was worth seeing, I would remember not to read Mr. Reed’s reviews. At least, warn reader that there are spoilers in this movie. I don”t need to know that the “Vanders?” we’re a bunch of serial killers before I go see the movie. Maybe I am one of a few people who have not read the Millenium series nor have not seen the Swede movies. Thanks for spoiling the movie for me, Mr. Reed.

  13. Anonymous says:

    wow, you get the tattoo scene wrong, you falsely assume that all women who have sex with women are lesbians and not bi, Daniel Craig is not naked when he is saved, and at the end you get wrong the location of Harriet, which is different in the book and movie (you give the book version but are allegedly reviewing the movie).  Sounds like someone took a long nap, then asked a friend who had read the book to fill him on details.

  14. TS says:

    Thank you for reviewing this from a practical perspective. As a writer, I was incredibly disappointed in how slow the plot progressed and how unconvincing the characters were. These commenters can get caught up on you typing “carving knife” instead of “tattoo needle” or take your character description of  “lesbian” as an all-encompassing assumption (which is actually an even bigger assumption than the one they are accusing you of possessing,) but your review is spot on. I’m happy to read an honest review and not one backed by bias compensation. People keep talking about this movie as if it is an amazing character study and eye-opening, but if I know the rapist side character better than the two leads by near hour two of the film, that’s a problem. The end isn’t worth waiting for if they’ve actually left me completely uninterested for the majority of the movie.

  15. eric says:

    I love you, Rex Reed!