Monday, July 19, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Maybe you’ve heard of the “Millennium Trilogy” currently sweeping the globe. Or the fatal circumstances in which Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s three brilliantly detailed crime novels reached mainstream praise without him ever living to reap the benefits. Either way, as Larsson’s novels hang atop the “New York Times” best sellers list, the Swedish films are making a name for themselves, too.

The producers who acquired the rights to the novels did the smart thing and shot all the films at the same time, using the same two leads. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in the series, was released domestically this past March to much critical acclaim and an impressive box office pull. Now comes The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second, and dare I say, more engrossing installment in the evolving series.

At the close of Dragon Tattoo our hero, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), had solved a decades-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young girl and served his brief prison sentence for libel, but not without the help of a punked-out, genius hacker Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace). We last saw Lisbeth walking into the sunset, hidden under a plush blonde wig, with thousands of stolen dollars secured in her bank account. Thankfully, for us, Played with Fire takes little time getting to the point.

After hiding out in the Caribbean for several months, Lisbeth is compelled to return home and take care of some unfinished business. Within days, much to her surprise, she is the lead suspect in three murders, all linked to a human sex trafficking ring. Blomkvist, longing for his would-be lover since her departure, immediately throws himself into the case, helping to clear Lisbeth’s name since the police apparently cannot.

Forgive me for ceasing discussion on plot details, but the fun of these films is discovering them for yourself. Even if you’re one of the millions of people who have read the books, the films will give you a fresh perspective. By the movie’s end, the story will have gone through enough twists and turns and spasms to make Christopher Nolan raise his eyebrows with envy.

As was evident in the first film, Nyqvist is marvelous in his ability to explain very complex topics within a matter of seconds. We actually believe Blomkvist could pull off everything he manages to, simply because Nyqvist convinces us he can.

But the real star of the show is the petite 110-pound, bisexual little baddie. As the conflicted, damaged Lisbeth, Noomi Repace goes places that could redefine what method acting is. She’s vicious, lean and, perhaps most importantly, smart as all hell. In a role that requires her to say very little, Repace presents her character with more depth and conviction than most working actors do today. Watch how, in the film’s most thrilling moment, Lisbeth not only takes on two huge biker boys, but she manages to steal one of their choppers, before riding off into the sunset, all with the slightest of smirks on her face. Classic, controlled acting.
As is often the case with sequels, people want to know if this one is better than the first. Dragon Tattoo, was excellent in the Hitchcockian method of presenting a single problem and blowing it wide open. But Played with Fire, as directed by Daniel Alfredson, taking over for Niels Arden Oplev, is slightly more detailed and technically controlled. The film deserves comparisons to the works of Polanski and Michael Haneke.

Dragon Tattoo, which is out on DVD, could’ve survived as its own film; the story could’ve been considered complete after the credits rolled. But Played with Fire leaves a little more open, which, if you’re a fan, gives even more reason to anticipate the October release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
And if that isn’t enough for you, David Fincher is currently developing an American version of Dragon Tattoo, reportedly starring Daniel Craig and Carey Mulligan. Will those capable-enough hands be as good as the original? You be the judge.

Forget the whiny teenage vampires and wimpy wizards constantly littering our cinemas. Here is a worthy film, and book, franchise for adults. Leave the kids at home. A-

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