Reviews for The Danish Girl out of Venice range on the high side of mixed, although all the critics seem to agree that Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander elevate the film far above any reservations each critic might harbor.
Peter Debruge at Variety writes:
Clearly, this was never not going to be a “prestige” picture. And while that ultra-respectful approach will engender allergic reactions in some, who’d sooner see a gritty, realistic portrayal — a la Jill Soloway’s terrific “Transparent” series for Amazon — than one seemingly tailored for the pages of fashion and interior-design magazines, there’s no denying that Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon have delivered a cinematic landmark, one whose classical style all but disguises how controversial its subject matter still remains.
…Spotlighting the least-represented thread in the LGBT quilt, “The Danish Girl” clearly wants to untangle the trans experience from the blanket definition of homosexuality, using Lili’s rejection of Whishaw’s gay character and her interview with gender-confirmation surgeon Dr. Kurt Warnekros (Sebastian Koch, playing the sensitive pioneer) to distinguish the two. What’s of utmost importance here is the discovery and ultimate acceptance of Lili’s true identity, and from the film’s perspective, the gender question has nothing (or very little) to do with sex. Rather, it’s something that reveals itself at first in mirrors and other reflective surfaces, and later directly to camera, as Redmayne explores Einar’s hidden second persona.
As Hans puts it at a train sendoff that recalls “Casablanca,” “I’ve only really liked a handful of people in my life, and you’ve been two of them.” But Lili’s emergence is a gradual and hesitant process, beautifully embodied by Redmayne — and reflected by Vikander, whose Gerda does her best to adapt alongside her husband, amounting to a substantive role for the film’s resident “Swedish girl.” Shy at first, like a flower opening, Redmayne ducks his eyes and turns his head as Lili, his confidence growing in tandem with the rolling boil of Alexandre Desplat’s strings and piano score.
Alonso Duralde at The Wrap says:
Hooper’s stately storytelling style matches the material, since there are so many stages and intermediate steps involved in Einar fully becoming Lili, who goes so far as to undergo one of the very first gender-reassignment surgeries. And while the movie could have gotten more out of its supporting characters — there’s no doubt much more to know about Oola, Henrik and Einar’s boyhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), who grew up to be a Paris art dealer — the delicate dance by which Einar becomes Lili and Gerda comes to love and accept this new person while mourning the loss of her husband remains fascinating all the same.
After all those wretched tight close-ups in “Les Misérables,” it’s a relief that Hooper and his usual cinematographer, Danny Cohen, allow these characters, searching for a way through their own lives, to get lost in vast spaces like hospital corridors and city blocks of Danish row houses. (We also get some nicely painterly moments, like a ballet studio where tutus hang in the rafters like indoor clouds.) Cohen and Hooper also make it a point to shoot Redmayne like Josef von Sternberg filming Marlene Dietrich, finding the androgynous actor’s best angles and lighting him like a screen queen of yore.
(More review excerpts to come)