Girl Who Played with Fire, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/18/10 02:58:54

"Not quite in "Dragon Tattoo"'s league, but still a quality mystery."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It's not really IMPORTANT that the first "Millennium" novel (and film adaptation) is called "Men Who Hate Women" in Sweden, becoming "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in English-speaking countries for the purpose of having the entire trilogy look nice when placed side-by-side on a shelf. It's notable, though, because that means that the second entry is the first to originally have its title be a description of Lisbeth Salander, a shift in focus that comes across loud and clear in this second [Swedish] adaptation.

It's been about a year since Salander (Noomi Rapace) helped disgraced reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) untangle a forty-year-old mystery and identify a serial killer. Salander has spent the year traveling, and Blomkvist has returned to Millennium. Things are about to heat up for both, though - Millennium has hired Dag Svensson (Hans-Christian Thulin) as a freelancer so that he and his girlfriend Mia (Jennie Silfverhjelm) can complete and publish their exposť of trafficking in Eastern European girls that could cause a major scandal in the national government, while Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), the guardian that Lisbeth memorably blackmailed in the first film, has decided he's had enough of being under her thumb and inquired about having her killed. Whoever Bjurman contacts opts not to kill Salander directly - instead, she finds herself neatly framed for a set of homicides, with only Blomkvist believing in her innocence.

Though all three films were made and released in rapid succession, Fire has a new creative team, with director Daniel Alfredson and screenwriter Jonas Frykberg taking over for Niels Arden Oplev and Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg (Alfredson and Frykberg stick around for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest). Whether because of the change in the creative team or because of the source material, Fire is less intense than Dragon Tattoo; it doesn't have a scene as brutal as the bit which got her Bjurman as an enemy until the finale, always keeps the story Dag was investigating at arm's length, and isn't able to quite do the same job of making research compelling to watch. It doesn't even put Blomkvist and Salander in the same room until the very end; their interaction is electronic and generally one-way.

There is plenty on the other side of the ledger, of course. The story does a fine job of nurturing seeds planted in the first part of the trilogy without forcing the audience to remember a bunch of detail. For as much as the narrative is split, it always seems to be converging; we're always curious about how what's going on with Salander will connect with Blomkvist's thread, and more often than not our curiosity is satisfied. When Alfredson and company do decide to turn up the heat, it's generally to pretty good effect.

(Although for all the physical menace Micke Spreitz brings as the hulking henchman incapable of feeling pain, that character's not too bright. Even if the unconscious people you lock in a wooden building don't use it, leaving the chainsaw you threaten them with behind is careless.)

Of course, the most important thing that the film has going for it is Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. First-billed this time around, this is clearly her movie, but in a lot of ways, she dials back a bit from the in-your-face performance of the first. The studded collar and leather are gone, and when we first see her, waking from a nightmare, she seems far more naked in her robe than she will during her lovemaking scenes. For all that she still comes across as the toughest person in the movie, Rapace is excellent at showing us Lisbeth as someone who has built strong walls around herself and is starting to wonder if she always needs them; though that first moment is Lisbeth horrified at how she can't hide from her dreams, there are others, such as when she sees that Mikael has found her and she now has to decide whether or not to trust him, where Rapace does a really exceptional job of showing us her struggle between wanting to be strong and wanting to be part of the larger world. It's also clear that it's not easy for her, and the darker parts of her personality are still there, even if they're kept under wraps more - as much as she doesn't have a motive for one murder she's accused of, it's not at all hard to believe she could have committed another.

The rest of the ensemble is good, as well. Michael Nyqvist doesn't have quite as meaty a role here as he did in Dragon Tattoo, but he does a good job of getting Blomkvist's reactions right, finding the balance of experience and shock at these events happening so close to home. Yasmine Garbi and Paolo Roberto are good as Lisbeth's friends who get sucked into the frame job (amusingly, Roberto is playing himself; Stieg Larsson had written the real-life boxer whom he had never met into the novel on a whim). The villains are each good in their own way, and Georgi Staykov is great in his limited time, since it's mostly emotionally charged scenes with Rapace.

As the middle portions of trilogies often do, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" ends with a fair amount up in the air, the final resolution deferred to part three. Here's hoping that the series finishes as strongly as it started, because there wasn't much of a dip in the middle.

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