Should I Watch..? 'The Girl Who Played with Fire'
What's the big deal?
The Girl Who Played With Fire is a dark crime thriller film released in 2009 and is based on the book of the same name by the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson. It is the second instalment in the Millennium trilogy and follows on from the events in the first film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This sequel signalled a change of director as Daniel Alfredson took over from Niels Arden Oplev for the second and third film, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest. The film itself sees principal cast members Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist reprise their roles as Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist while also starring Peter Andersson, Lena Endre and former boxer Paolo Roberto. Before being released in the US, the film had already earned in excess of $50 million and ultimately earned over $67 million worldwide. However, it was not as well received as its predecessor although overall reaction to the film was positive.
What's it about?
After spending a year travelling, Lisbeth Salander returns to her native Sweden and purchases an apartment with intentions of laying low. She also continues to monitor her former legal guardian Nils Bjurman by hacking into his computer, even threatening him when he attempts to get the tattoo she gave him removed. Meanwhile, life at Millennium magazine continues with new journalist Dag Svensson joining the team with a ready-made article exposing a number of high-profile figures implicated in a sex-trafficking ring. Assisted by his girlfriend, whose thesis is on such crimes, Dag is approaching and confronting those about to be exposed before both turn up dead at their shared apartment. The murders are linked to a gun owned by Bjurman who also turns up dead.
The police, led by Inspector Jan Bublanski, believe that Lisbeth is the prime suspect as her fingerprints are discovered on the gun. But her former colleague, friend and lover Mikael Blomkvist is determined to prove her innocence. Convinced that the answers lay somewhere in Dag's notes, Blomkvist launches his own investigation into the murders and a mysterious individual known only as Zala. Lisbeth, meanwhile, is already one step ahead and has no qualms about seeing justice done her way...
Release Date (UK)
27th August, 2010
Crime, Drama, Thriller
What's to like?
Once again, the performances from the two leads easily carry the film. Nyqvist is utterly believable as Blomkvist, one of cinema's most atypical heroes. Here is a guy just trying to do right in the world in his own way but one who cannot seem to shed the limelight that has been thrust upon him. He's no John McClane but a journalist trying to expose the seedy underbelly of society without the need for violence. By contrast, Rapace's Salander has no such problem torturing those who step on her toes but can seemingly move wherever she wishes, operating in broad daylight when she's not hacking her way through everyone's computers. Salander is the more enthralling character - an off-putting combination of vulnerability and immense fortitude - but both give this movie a real lift.
Not to say that the rest of the cast are overlooked, in fact they are all excellent. Micke Spreitz, in particular, is a proper old-school baddie, lurking in the shadows like an old Bond henchman and looking like he could crush a skull with his bare hands. The story is much simpler than before with less flashbacks than the first film while the action feels authentic and physically tough. But it's Rapace and Nyqvist who are the real stars of the show once again, underlining the strength of the writing behind their characters.
- Boxer Paolo Roberto plays himself in this film after he was written as a character in the original book. This is only the fourth time in cinema history this has happened and Roberto himself didn't even know the book featured him as a character.
- This is the only one of the Millennium series where the English title matched the Swedish original. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was originally called "Men Who Hate Women" and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest was actually titled "The Castle In The Sky That Was Blown Up" in Swedish.
- During an early scene at the Millennium offices, a pile of magazines called Expo is on display. This is the anti-fascist magazine Stieg Larsson helped found back in 1995 and was editor of until his death in 2004.
What's not to like?
The first film is a dark, brooding thriller that pushes the viewer's stomachs to the limit - it is shocking, violent and bloody. All of which makes me wonder if the version I saw had been severely edited for UK viewers - by contrast, this is a much gentler watch than the first film. There is still plenty here for Daily Mail readers to complain about - man-on-woman violence, sexual assault, a lesbian love scene - but it does feel somewhat sanitised compared to the earlier film. This is most notable with the character of Salander, who has ditched the spiked dog collars and scruffy hairstyle to look more conventional. It didn't feel right to me.
Whilst I am aware that Sweden does not lay under a blanket of snow all year round, the film has also lost the chill that the wintry landscape conjured up in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Maybe this is another example of the film becoming more mainstream - it looked like it could have been filmed anywhere instead of definitely being in Sweden. Obviously, anyone who despises subtitles won't enjoy this film very much seeing as it features most of its dialogue in Swedish. Lastly, and although this isn't really a fault of the film, it doesn't surprise you as much unless you haven't seen the first film. It feels very similar to the first film - that goes without saying - so we already know who these people are and what they can do.
Should I watch it?
The Girl Who Played With Fire is a gripping thriller that anyone can enjoy, even if you haven't read the books (like myself). Thanks to wonderful performances from the two leads, the film is a powerful punch in the gut that encourages you to watch the final film. However, it is a slight backwards step from the brilliant original due to some wobbly story-telling in the final third and a distinct impression of clearing up its act. I would still recommend this film, even if only because I want to see more of Rapace's wonderful portrayal of Salander.
Great For: lovers of Nordic noir, fans of the books, Swedish cinema, investigative journalists
Not So Great For: the easily offended, anyone who hasn't seen the first film
What else should I watch?
Internationally, the Millennium series stand head-and-shoulders above other recent Swedish thrillers although the country has a long and proud history in film-making. Ever since Greta Garbo's debut in the silent films of the 1920's to director Ingmar Bergman's post-war career, Sweden continues to produce film-makers and actors that continue to delight and enthral audiences around the world. Lasse Hallström's Hollywood career has brought him success with the likes of The Cider House Rules and Chocolat while Tomas Alfredson's vampire romance Let The Right One In was one of the best reviewed films of 2008.
I confess that the English-language adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has passed me by, mainly due to my belief that there's nothing wrong with the Swedish original. However, David Fincher is an assured director and I have ample faith in his ability to make the movie work. Rooney Mara's portrayal of Lisbeth Salander won similar plaudits to Rapace but while Daniel Craig is preoccupied with being 007, fans will have to wait for the next instalment.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Benjamin Cox