The Girl Who Played With Fire

Director    Daniel Alfredson
Starring    Noomi Rapace. Michael Nyqvist, Georgi Staykov, Micke Spreitz
Release    27 AUG (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


2nd September 2010

The Girl is everywhere at the moment. Between posters advertising the DVD release of her excellent Dragon Tattoo and what seems to be 80 % of all public-transport commuters reading about her Hornet's Nest (stop sniggering) - not to mention Fincher's forthcoming US adaptation(s?) - Stieg Larsson's so-called Millennium Trilogy is certainly enjoying unprecedented popularity at the moment. And yet with this, the second film of the series, we have already reached the first stumbling block.

Didn't think it could happen, did you? Larsson's books have seemed untouchable lately, and his titular character, the genius borderline-sociopath Lisbeth Salander, has already become somewhat of a cult icon. But with this film adaptation, both the subject matter and the ill-balanced plot threads are handled a little more clumsily, so instead of a worthy follow-up to the enthralling The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we have a disappointing effort that, while serving the overall three-instalment story arc rather well, just feels too laboured to meet the standard set by its predecessor as a great standalone film.

[gallery] Set a year after the original murder mystery, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) is now tackling the seedy world of sex-trafficking and, after not speaking to Salander (Rapace) since the events of Dragon Tattoo, becomes embroiled in trying to prove her innocence when she is accused of the murder of his two friends. As the nation-wide police/media hunt for her gets underway, Salander undergoes her own investigation - one that ties the murders and the sex-trafficking racket to her own mysterious past.

If Dragon Tattoo is a whodunit, The Girl Who Played with Fire is a spy novel, heavy on surveillance tactics and unfolding conspiracies, but none of that is adequately represented here because the film moves along at too fast a pace to establish any real tension. Still, some of the Ian Fleming throwbacks are clear, particularly in hulking henchman Niedermann who, as a result of Bond villain-esque genetics, is unable to feel any pain, making for a formidable, if slightly unbelievable, foe.

The spy tropes, however, are mostly sidelined in favour of trying to deliver a more action-based, fast-paced thriller, and this unfortunately results in rushed story-telling, such as Salander uncovering the 'well-buried' secrets of her childhood with uncanny ease. This isn't to say, though, that the film is without its merits. In a story that frustratingly keeps its two main characters separated until the final scene, Rapace is almost solely responsible for holding our interest as she, once again, remains wholly committed in her portrayal of the increasingly fascinating Salander, somehow managing to appear both deadly and vulnerable at the same time.

And indeed, thanks to Larsson's story, the unravelling of Salander's past, though rather ineptly handled by director Daniel Alfredson (Note: different director to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Niels Arden Oplev), is engrossing, leading nicely to a truly shocking third act revelation. Unfortunately, the nerve-wracking climactic showdown suffers from some unrealistic bulletproof moments and an ending that seems too abrupt in an effort to make it lead directly into the third and final film.

And now, sadly, we have to wait for the third film before we can judge the Millennium Trilogy to be either a worthwhile trio of films, or a series of decreasing value. It will be tricky too: after the 'whodunit' and the 'spy novel', we next have the 'courtroom drama' to round off the whole story and this lends itself even less to the kind of thriller these films have now both successfully and unsuccessfully become. If all else fails, let's hope that Fincher is taking note of this film's shortcomings.

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