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The Girl Who Played With Fire

2010-11-05 13:59
The Girl Who Played with Fire
What it's about:

Following on from the events of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander finds herself on the run as the main suspect in a sex-trafficking-based triple homicide. Will she and former lover/ partner Mikael Blomkvist be able to prove her innocence before the law and her past catch up with her?  

What we thought:

After the very disappointing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I went into its follow-up with cautious but higher expectations. After all, for all of its many flaws, Dragon Tattoo was a solid introduction to the two main characters and, with the set up out of the way, surely we could finally move on to simply telling a good suspense story. Not so much, as it turns out.

The initial half hour of the film is actually pretty good as it sets up an intriguing new mystery that not only draws on the extraneous aspects of the first movie but imbues the proceedings with a more personal dimension as Lisbeth Salander, our titular anti-heroine, becomes the centre of a complex web of murder, human trafficking and old family secrets. Lisbeth herself also remains a fairly engaging character, even if her male counterpart in the film, Mikael Blomkvist, fares significantly less well.  

Once you get past the first act, however, the film quickly starts to come apart at the seams. While the main mystery of the first film was very well plotted, the same sadly and certainly can't be said for The Girl Who Played with Fire. It's hard to say whether the film has too much plot or too little but the explosive combination of cold-blooded murder and loathsome sex-trafficking that is so effectively set up in the opening act is rendered inert by the rest of the film. As the murder mystery itself becomes less and less interesting, let alone mysterious, the sex-trafficking angle all but disappears as the film plods towards an ending that is both exciting and totally anti-climactic at once.

With the plot unravelling so spectacularly throughout, the film is forced to fall back on the action set-pieces, the characters and the overall atmosphere to engage the viewer and the results are decidedly mixed. It certainly can't rely on pacing though, as the film's 140 minutes crawl by with all the excruciating deliberateness of a massive luxury liner coming into dock.

We do still have in Lisbeth Salander a pretty great, edgy central character, as portrayed by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace in star-making performances, but she so wholly overshadows every other one-note character in the film that she is certainly not enough to save the rest of the film from itself. More problematically, her interactions with other characters that truly allow her character to shine – most notably an otherwise dry Mikael Blomkvist – is severely restricted by the need to have her operating on her own for too much of the film.

That's plot and character down so all that's left to salvage the film are the abilities of director Daniel Alfredson, taking the reigns from Dragon Tattoo's Niels Arden Oplev, to give viewers something to hang onto. On the plus side, Alfredson clearly has an eye for action and suspense so no matter how boring much of the film gets, we're at least given some nicely visceral but lucidly handled set-pieces that are sprinkled throughout the film.

Tonally, though, Alfredson fares less well. I wasn't the biggest fan of the icy tones of Dragon Tattoo but at least they were visually gripping and gave the film a strong and unique sense of atmosphere. The Girl Who Played with Fire, on the other hand, is visually bland and there is nothing that really sets it apart from any other generic thriller. However subdued and sombre most of the film may be, there is no getting past the major villains of the piece who feel like they stumbled into the film accidentally, while on their way to a Brosnan-era James Bond movie. In fact, now that I think about it, the baddie with the faulty pain-receptors was a Brosnan-era James Bond villain!        

After two failed attempts at bringing Stieg Larsson's novels to the big screen, I don't hold out much hope for the final film in the Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, but with David Fincher's brilliant The Social Network hitting screens this week and reminding us just how good he can be, perhaps his English-language remake of the trilogy will fare better. On the other hand, The Social Network features a phenomenal Aaron Sorkin script and I'm less convinced that the Larsson novels will ever offer as great a basis for a film as Sorkin's cinematic writing so obviously does.

We'll just have to wait and see whether the Millennium Trilogy should ever have left the confines of the bookstore – but so far the signs aren't looking good.

Two films in, the signs for Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy aren't looking very good.

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