Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Sofia Ledarp, Peter Andersson, Micke Spreitz
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Writer(s): Jonas Frykberg, Stieg Larsson (novel)
Cinematography: Peter Mokrosinski
Original Score: Jacob Groth
Running Time: 129 Mins.
This second part in the movie adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy succumbs to the well know difficult second album (or film in this case) syndrome, how to follow an original that kind of came out of nowhere to become a massive critical success and a great financial one too considering the relatively tiny budget, all this and the fact that it is a subtitled Swedish film makes its success all the more surprising. Carrying all that weight of expectation now that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was freed of first time around is The Girl Who Played With Fire, acting as both sequel to Dragon Tattoo picking up approximately a year from that film’s end, and even more difficult as the mid section to a trilogy, in itself a tricky one by nature as you still need to have a beginning, middle and end amongst what is essentially all plot.
Even the best of trilogies have struggled with this inevitable plight (Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future) so it comes as little surprise that The Girl Who Played With Fire is something of a failure in this respect, but like those films if enjoyed with a view to it being just that, a mid-section, and accept that there wont be any kind of culmination or answering of big questions there is some really entertaining stuff to be found within. Like Dragon Tattoo there is an attempt here to tell an investigative type of tale, this time a sex-trafficking ring. ultimately this thread of the film is the weakest whereas in its predecessor it was the elegiac melding of the bigger arc and the intrigue of a great psychological thriller.
The main issue is that the two characters who we spent a great deal of time growing affection for, and interest in the dynamic they had is all but lost here as they are kept apart for all but 2 minutes of the entire film, a narrative issue tied up in being faithful to the books it may well have worked well on the page but onscreen all that great chemistry is lost. Weaving in and out of both Lisbeth (Rapace) and Mikael’s (Nyqvist) attempts at both uncovering the truth behind the trafficking ring and realising that Lisbeth herself is very personally linked to the case.
In this respect it is interesting as we learn more about why Lisbeth is such a disturbed individual but ultimately this all leads in rather generic thriller territory (something Dragon Tattoo largely avoided) this is partly down to the editing from TV mini-series to film for a cinema release but also to the rather slack direction, mostly plot intercut with a flurry of action that is not particularly well staged (a boxing fight here, a brief car chase there) and worse still comic-book pulpy elements creep in which seem somewhat out-of-place, i.e. the arch-villain who is scarred beyond recognition, the side-kick heavy who has a rare condition that renders him impervious to pain, and the last straw an escape from a shallow grave to wreak revenge, it is at this stage that Lisbeth has become less the intriguing figure of Dragon Tattoo and closer to some kind of James Bond/Superwoman hybrid, I have a feeling Stieg Larsson wasn’t aiming for this tone when he wrote the books!
Alas for all its flaws it is a very watchable film, the interest remains enough as the film ends to yearn for a conclusion and the hope that Lisbeth and Mikael will share more screen-time in favour of the cheap theatrics and character types next time around, there is a gripping story in there somewhere, let us hope that it can be teased out in the closing chapter making good on the promise of Dragon Tattoo, for The Girl Who Played With Fire is the messy but fun Hannibal to Dragon Tattoo’s great Silence of the Lambs, heres hoping The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest is more like Manhunter and less like Red Dragon in the basis of that analogy!
As a standalone film The Girl Who Played With Fire doesn’t quite work, and as a middle chapter we lose a lot of what made it’s forebear so great, enjoyable enough but we can only hope for more chemistry and less theatrics in the final chapter.