Film: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace

When the first Swedish adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo humbly slid into cinemas around the world, it was several things. Firstly it was a brilliant film. Its sinister plot writhed and twisted its way through a darkly-lit modern world where we glimpsed the terrifying double lives of sadistic rapists, merciless serial murderers and corporate tyrants through the eyes of both their victims and the fascinating heroes who stand against them. Secondly, it shone a light on the much deserving Swedish film industry by making over 100 million dollars worldwide. But what this film really did, as most fans should tell you, is that it put onto the screen a powerful female heroine who isn’t a superhero, is never given special treatment and who didn’t need saving by the masculine knight in shining armour. In fact, Lisbeth Salander is the one who saves Mikael from a horrifying death.

The key to this time round, just as the first time is Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth. Once again the young actress is dynamite as the bi-sexual, tattooed computer hacker who has gone even further underground since helping Mikael clear his name and brought down a corporate empire. She exposes herself to deal with her cruel guardian once again and is suddenly implicated in the callous murder of pair of Millennium journalists who were investigating a sex trafficking operation. As Lisbeth is on the run from the law, as well as thugs and murderers, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is thrown back into serious action as he tries to track down the real murderer to clear his friend and return the favour.

Unfortunately this time around, the storytelling-style of new director Daniel Alfredson slightly pales when held up to the first (directed by Niels Arden Oplev). It may be unfair to compare the two but most readers of the series found the second book superior to the first and would expect the films to follow suit. But don’t be mistaken, The Girl Who Played with Fire is still a thrill ride that is rewarding on many levels, but this is due mostly the power of the two protagonists along with the foundations of the original story. Most of the elements that made the original are there, but the difference is in the energy of the film as a whole. It acts like Alfredson has a hard time shifting gears up and down seamlessly, leaving the viewer shaken up but not really moved.

While a few cheesy moments seem out of place with nudity and sex scenes playing off the allure of the reclusive Lisbeth (it feels so much like Hollywood it’s hard not to feel a little manipulated), ultimately the film retains the elements that made the original work. There are still the cool-as-hell 21st century technological power plays that have tipped the balance in favour of such characters as ex-security analysts with tendencies for eccentric methods of revenge and violent behaviour. The politics of individual freedoms and moral dilemmas caused by the evils that penetrate all levels of society are there, along with some realist social commentary on the sex trafficking problem in Europe. Scenes such as Blomkvist’s scathing interview with a prominent community member who is also the customer of trafficked girls are perfectly brutal. Lisbeth’s interrogation of a similar man, while wearing gothic war paint and calmly explaining the man’s options is just as satisfying.

Ignoring the extraordinary international phenomenon that the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series has become in both literary and cinematic circles in the past few years, there is enough evidence in Australia alone that this Scandinavian crime wave is more than just the flavour of the month. The first instalment The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo lasted 14 weeks in Australian cinemas and became one of the biggest grossing foreign language films in Australia’s history. Riding on the back of this unexpected hype, The Girl Who Played with Fire now comes just 6 months after the first was released. If you want to continue on the Millennium rollercoaster before the looming Hollywood remake takes a meat cleaver to this gripping series, go and see another great work of Swedish cinema.

You will love this if: You believe that a stylish, intelligent film can actually be produced from a bestselling book adored by millions if the treatments can boast all the essential elements.

You will hate this if: You Larsson purists need to get a grip. Rapace and Nyqvist inhabit these roles so completely that their presence rebuffs anything you have to say about the finer points of this film!

The Girl Who Played with Fire will be released on the 23rd of September to selected cinemas

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