The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)

13 Sep

Don't let this photo fool you. This film is boring.

Lisbeth Salander captured the world’s attention in the wildly successful “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” The character’s complex blend of indifference, intellect and sex appeal proved irresistible for readers and film audiences alike. Unfortunately, “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” the second installment in the Salander trilogy, isn’t as compelling as the initial offering, and the marked decrease in strength of story casts serious doubts on the trilogy’s finale.

At the end of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” computer hacker and crafty genius Lisbeth Salander had helped famous journalist Mikael Blomkvist solve a decades-old mystery, which had, in turn, allowed Blomkvist to bring down a corrupt financial institution. Salander, having sneakily transferred illicit funds to her own accounts, had gone abroad, cutting ties with Blomkvist and her few other friends. “The Girl Who Played With Fire” finds Salander returning to Sweden only to be blamed for a series of murders. Blomkvist remains convinced of Salander’s innocence and begins his own investigation. The truth slowly surfaces, and both Blomkvist and the authorities start to realize the deaths are  only the most recent in a string of distressingly hushed-up crimes. Salander, meanwhile, is locked in a race against the authorities hunting her and the shadowy antagonists hoping to feed her to the wolves. As the investigations start to overlap, the danger grows more intense, and Salander’s refusal to accept outside help becomes more and more deadly.

Pinpointing where “The Girl Who Played With Fire” goes wrong is fairly easy: The story is simply not as compelling as it was in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” The interplay between Blomkvist and Salander provided a good deal of extra interest in “Tattoo,” and that dynamic is starkly missing in “Fire.” Where the procedural elements of the story were intriguing and revealing in “Tattoo,” they are isolating and uninteresting in “Fire.” Separating Salander from every other character in “Fire” forces dueling storylines, and neither of them are really solid enough to stand on their own. Too much of the overall plot of this film relies on frankly unbelievable coincidence and unreal characters straight out of James Bond. The marriage of characters who previously seemed realistic and grounded with this new slick action and fictitious villains is decidedly uneasy.

If only Lisbeth Salander could always be running around pointing guns at people instead of putting together stuff from IKEA and looking worried while smoking cigarettes in her million-dollar apartment. Ugh.

Director Daniel Alfredson and screenplay writer Jonas Frykberg cut between storylines too quickly, and the plot often gets muddled. The beginning of the film generates very little interest; it is plodding and uninteresting to follow Salander through a real estate deal, through building chairs bought at IKEA and so on, and this goes on for far too long. The novel has been adapted brutally, by which I mean wide swaths of it don’t appear in any way in the film. As a consequence of the pruning, the sequences which remain feel extremely disjointed, and the film suffers a lack of natural flow. Many of the scenes feel clipped and rushed, and the considerable plot seems almost overlooked. There is nearly always something of importance happening on screen, but it is quite difficult for the audience to keep track of how all the pieces join together. Again, Alfredson’s choices seem very strange at times, and the pacing is definitely erratic.

Noomi Rapace is again wonderful as the title character. Her strength of performance goes a long way to redeeming the weak story. Michael Nyqvist is again solid, but not particularly noteworthy, as the journalist Blomkvist. No other character comes into play enough to even discuss. The enormous supporting cast (I can think of nine other characters off the top of my head) is so pointedly underutilized that one questions why all those plot tangents are even included. Some characters are introduced, then never heard from again. Some are introduced, then reintroduced an hour later. Whether their work is good or not is irrelevant because only a handful stand out in any way at all. Even characters on which huge plot points hang are rarely on screen, and one of said characters, I believe, has no lines at all.

It’s hard to blame the filmmakers for this weak entry in the Salander trilogy; the second and third novels are just not the same quality as that first explosive story. The drastic shift in tone to a straightforward procedural drama is perhaps what is most disappointing. I found the old-fashioned “mystery on an island” set-up interestingly retro in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and looked forward to something similar in the rest of the series. Unfortunately, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” is more Jason Bourne than Agatha Christie, and feels stale as a result. Two stars out of four.

The Girl Who Played With Fire:” Rated R. Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Michalis Koutsogiannakis, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Jacob Ericksson, Reuben Sallmander and Yasmine Garbi. Directed by Daniel Alfredson. Screenplay by Jonas Frykberg from the novel by Stieg Larsson. Cinematography by Peter Mokrosinski. Original music by Jacob Groth.

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