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The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second installment in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, ditches Niels Arden Oplev, the director of the first installment in the Swedish series, for Daniel Alfredson and while the story is a marked improvement over the drab procedural of the original, Alfredson also trades in some cinematic import for a more TV movie feel.  While the story takes up more personal stakes and allows the viewer to enter the head space of Lisbeth Salander, the film’s central heroine, there’s also a lot more needless fat to the story and the kind of sheen that’s more evident on network television.  All of the gritty details are left to the story while the film takes a cleaner shine that betrays its gritty details.

A year has passed since the events of the first film and Lisbeth has been living abroad while Mikael Blomkvist is working with a new reporter at his Millenium Magazine hoping to expose a sex trafficking ring.  When Lisbeth returns to Stockholm and the young reporter and his girlfriend end up dead, with Lisbeth’s fingerprints on the gun, our two estranged heroes delve into the seedy underground each, separately, trying to prove the young hacker’s innocence.  As opposed to the first film which introduced her, this film reveals much of the background and history of its central character and she thusly feels more of an essential character.  In the first film, it felt like Lisbeth was little more than a sidekick character to Blomkvist within her own franchise but she takes center stage here revealing interesting details about her past and informing and playing off of events that felt like perfunctory appendages in the first film.

While Michael Nyqvist continues to be a black hole of charisma and uninteresting choices as Blomkvist, Noomi Rapace is given much more to chew on which the actress relishes with gusto.  While Rooney Mara admirably picked up the torch for the American version, I am hard pressed to say which is the better performance.  Rather, each focus on very different aspects of the character and give very interesting interpretations of Salander.  Rapace’s Salander is stronger in will and never seems to have the outward social problems that Mara encapsulates very well in her version.  Rapace internalizes the pain and vulnerabilities and the character and takes her to new extremes that work well here, especially when it comes to a harrowing emotional climax.

However, there are parts of the film that lag and threaten to push the film in the procedural territory of the first but the personal connections that Salander has to the central mystery provides an emotional connection that the Vanger story of the first lacked completely.  The film feels more like a continuing television series rather than its own stand alone film and much of that has to do with Alfredson’s direction and a script that seems afraid to ditch characters and concepts wholesale.  Bits and pieces from the novel remain for little to no reason except to pay lip service.  A section of the film is devoted to a tertiary boxer character saving another tertiary character that results in a poorly shot and choreographed fight scene that was embarrassing and felt like a distraction to the other events of the film.

Rapace remains the singular highlight of the series as she elevates her Salander performance taking the character to places only hinted at in the first film.  While Nyqvist still feels like a non-presence, at least this time, he is still the ineffectual “male lead” relegated to a supporting role in the events of the film.  The cast and the world of the film are blown out which is good for the scope and revelations that aid to the story but the film feels hard-pressed to keep up and the entire enterprise feels pushed to the seams.  Like the other stories in the series, there is still a large concentration on sex crimes and violence towards women that almost bordered on an obsession with Larsson.  Because of that obsession, Larsson created one of the strongest female characters in modern fiction that rose from the ashes of brutal violence.  The Girl Who Played with Fire sheds light on the character’s dark past but the lack of focus makes her more of an enigma than she really should be.  It’s only through the brave performance by Rapace that the character leaves any presence at all and had the film shed its weight in light, poorly drawn supporting characters and one too many plot strands, the film could have worked better as a character study and not the broad, catch-all mystery that the film becomes.

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