Music Box Films // 2009 // 129 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // October 12th, 2010
Fight fire with fire.
If you're going to be cool like Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), I guess you just have to expect to deal with some pretty serious garbage. Call me lame if you want, but I can do without that kind of excitement in my life. I'll still watch it, though, because everything she takes, she dishes right back, with a little something extra for good measure. Lisbeth Salander is one of the coolest characters I've seen in years. The second film in the trilogy based on Stieg Larsson's best-selling series of novels, The Girl who Played with Fire forces Salander to reckon with her past.
Opening up a few months after the events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander has just returned from a trip to the Carribean. Shortly after she arrives, however, three people wind up murdered and her fingerprints are all over the gun. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, Downloading Nancy), head of the muck-raking magazine, Millennium, and Lisbeth's old friend, knows she didn't do it and aims out to prove it. The key hides in the upcoming issue of his magazine, an exposé on sex trafficking that will destroy the careers of several high-ranking Swedish officials.
Since we already know our principal characters, director Daniel Alfredson (Tic Tac) can just dump the audience into the situation, so The Girl who Played with Fire gets off to a much faster start than Dragon Tattoo. It isn't as cerebral as its predecessor, but it gets right to business and stays action-packed the whole way through. The tone of the film is slightly less grim, if only because it's less explicit. This might make it more accessible to audiences, but the story doesn't quite measure up. It's still a tightly-written script from Jonas Frykberg, but the twists aren't as shocking and the resolution never quite seems in doubt.
There's much to like in this centerpiece of the trilogy, however. The premise is excellent, a natural extension of the first film. Many young women have experienced what was inflicted on Lisbeth, by the same hands of the police officer Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson, Gossip) who was assigned to take care of her. Lisbeth hasn't returned to Sweden to visit friends, she's come back to remind Bjurman of the little deal they made to keep his vile nature out of the press. He isn't holding up his end of the bargain and she needs to show him once again why she is to be feared. By complete coincidence, this little visit results in her prints on a gun. With her past, there's no doubt she's a viable suspect when Bjurman turns up dead. When the same gun is used to kill the person who wrote the magazine article, in which Bjurman is implicated, we know something much larger than Lisbeth's revenge is going on. It's a very solid framework and Alfredson keeps the film moving from here at a nice swift pace.
Lisbeth takes center stage, right where she should be. Dragon Tattoo, despite its title, was about Blomkvist and his journey, but this is Lisbeth's story. Blomkvist takes on Lisbeth's former role as a source of aid when the going gets tough. Lisbeth is an intriguing character and Noomi Rapace puts in a charismatic performance that embodies the character. She's natural in the role, delivering the rebellious, never-say-die drive that makes Lisbeth tick. How Rapace works in a film when not playing this character is up in the air, but as Lisbeth Salander, she is absolutely perfect.
Because the movie is Lisbeth's story, and directly involves her past, there is considerably more emotion in this film than in the last. The situation forces her to act irrationally, which adds another note to what seemed previously to be an entirely calculating and self-contained personality. Not only does she need help to stay alive, she shows some genuine emotion to several people in the film, making the character far deeper going forward into the final installment.
Along with Rapace, the supporting cast all does well with the material. Michael Nyqvist is once again strong as magazine editor and self-styled private eye Mikael Blomkvist; he takes on the supporting role very well. The villains are neither as frightening nor as realistic as in Dragon Tattoo, but the James Bond-y silliness of a burn victim mastermind and his hulking henchman son who can feel no pain is somewhat welcome next to the overall darkness of the storyline. Former mid-level pro boxer Paolo Roberto makes an appearance as himself, helping Blomkvist find Lisbeth, who he trained when she was a girl. The boxer was a character in the novel as well, so while he's the natural casting choice, it adds a dimension that I didn't expect.
While not as cerebral or as effective as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire is a more than worthy thriller, much better than the toothless action we're often subjected to in modern suspense. Daniel Alfredson's strong direction makes for a fast-moving production, and the strength of the performances makes this film well worth watching.
Music Box sent a screener for review. The anamorphic image and surround sound are fine, but nothing to write home about. There are no extras on this disc, but the box advertises an English dub and a trailer, which is a pretty lame way to present this film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Music Box Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Swedish)
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site