The Girl Who Played With Fire
Sequel should please fans who like it smart and sleazy
The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace
Occasionally, I run into upstanding, straight-laced, middle-American citizens who question my ability to view horror films. “How can you watch those horrible things?” they ask. Oddly enough, I’ve noticed those are the exact same people heaping praise on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (the massively popular The Girl ... book series). The books are basically “CSI” crossed with The Silence of the Lambs with a touch of The Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure. Believe me, there’s enough sick and twisted stuff going on in Larsson’s books to fill the next couple of Saw films. And yet, literate, quietly conservative older Americans who would never pay to see a slasher film don’t seem to bat an eye at any of Larsson’s grisly goings-on, turning the books into bestsellers and the subsequent films into box office hits.
The second film in the series (shot in Larsson’s native Sweden) is now hitting theaters in America. The Girl Who Played With Fire picks up right where The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo left off. The first film brought to life the vivid (if slightly far-fetched) characters of Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced investigative journalist, and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), an emotionally damaged, bisexual, punk rock, computer hacking genius with a photographic memory. The two came together over the 40-year-old mystery of a missing girl, leading them down a rabbit hole of Nazis, serial killers, incestuous families, Biblical conspiracies and other weirdness.
The second film in the trilogy adds a new director and screenwriter, but keeps the original cast and gloomy overall tone, making for a seamless transition from the first. Gone is the first story’s (relatively) tight whodunit plot and claustrophobic setting. The story this time is rather scattershot, revolving around Mikael and Lisbeth’s attempts to expose a massive sex trafficking ring from Eastern Europe. That’s just an excuse, though, to dig into Lisbeth’s mysterious past. By film’s end, the white slavery angle has pretty much been abandoned for freaky daddy issues, Russian spies and a bunch more psychosexual violence. As in the first film, rich, white males are a mighty rapey bunch. (And for a self-proclaimed “feminist,” Larsson sure likes to linger over the scenes of women being brutally raped and tortured.) Of course, if you’ve already read the books, you know what you’re in for. If you haven’t even seen the first film, don’t bother with this one. It’s definitely the middle film in a trilogy and will only hopelessly confuse newcomers.
While The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo spent well over an hour uniting our two main characters, The Girl Who Played With Fire keeps them apart until the final seconds of the film. This doesn’t exactly advance the brief relationship laid out in the first film. (Maybe these two actually get to interact in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I don’t know.) As in the first film, the key to cracking the central mystery revolves around lots and lots of research. One of the reasons heavily procedural cop shows like “CSI” and “Bones” are so popular is they occasionally allow you to learn some little medical or scientific tidbit you didn’t know before. The secrets unearthed in the Millennium Trilogy are entirely insular—along the lines of, “So-and-so is secretly so-and-so’s father, who was clandestinely linked to so-and-so, who committed such-and-such atrocity 30 years ago.” That sort of stuff usually works better in books. While it’s definitely more realistic to have crimes that are solved by the careful study of corporate financial records, it’s way more visually appealing to have crimes that are solved by Bruce Willis jumping off a skyscraper while attached to a firehose.
Basically, it all boils down to how much of a fan of the books you are. If you’re a fan of slow, literate novels, you’re probably a fan of slow, literate movies. Personally, I haven’t read Larsson’s works, and I’m fairly confident I wouldn’t like them. Being well-versed in horror films, slasher flicks and the occasional violent thriller, I find The Girl ... series fairly derivative. Basically, they’re “quirky amateur sleuth” novels with some nasty ’70s drive-in-movie-style sexploitation added to the mix—Sherlock Holmes-meets-I Spit on Your Grave. If you’ve plowed through the books and appreciated the first film, though, you’ll find plenty to keep you happy here. Nyqvist and Rapace are well cast, and they do credible jobs breathing life into their colorful characters. The scripting and directing are workmanlike enough not to distract from Larsson’s dizzying detail and complex plotting. See it now, before the inevitable American remake ruins the few positive elements this film series retains.