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DVD Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire
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The Girl Who Played With Fire
DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, and Hans Christian Thulin
Music Box Films Home Entertainment
Released: October 26, 2010

In early 2009, I recall browsing Amazon for some new reading material. I was after something different, something new, and by an author I had not yet read material from. Topping the bestsellers at the site that month was a series of three novels from a Swedish author named Stieg Larsson. Curious at the books, I became even more intrigued upon the discovery that these books were published posthumously and that they had since become the biggest selling novels in his home country of Sweden.

The first tale, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was an absolutely riveting tale, a book to which the “cliché” absolutely applies. With the first few chapters I was an advocate in Larsson’s world of the Millennium Trilogy (named after the magazine company one of the main characters works for), and completely a fan.

So, naturally, when I discovered that Swedish filmmakers were bringing the late Larsson’s stories to life, I was excited. Doubtful, though excited — for Larsson crafts his novels with intricate layers of webs that interweave and touch every single character. The first movie in the trilogy was a masterpiece and triumph, thought missing some underlying elements of the novel. Either way, I was blown away by it, and could hardly wait for the follow up.

Finally, the subsequent chapter of the Dragon Tattoo saga (or Millennium Trilogy – take your pick as to what you would prefer to call them) has at last been released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the United States, and is now also available on Netflix’s streaming movie service.

The Girl Who Played With Fire continues to pursue the story of the main characters, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Salander is a young woman who tries to lead a very private life, enjoys an alternative (almost punk/goth) image, and is a proficient computer hacker. In the trilogy, she is shown to be an expert researcher who gathers knowledge via unorthodox methods who also happens to have a photographic memory.

Blomkvist on the other hand, is a reporter, who publishes a liberal left-leaning magazine called Millennium, with a small team of loyal and hard-working writers and editors that continually endeavor to expose corruption and illicit tomfoolery by those in big business and those in government.

When we last saw Blomkvist and Salander, they had formed a team together that was almost an unstoppable force — during the events of Dragon Tattoo; they had uncovered a number of secrets within an enigma that would expose both a serial killer and a hidden tale kept mystified for decades. Both the book and film portray this partnership as nothing short of astounding; in fact, it gives you the feeling that it was “meant-to-be.”

By the beginning of Played With Fire, we find the two separated and not having spoken to each other in about two years. While the novels by Larsson underscore this in great detail through the exposition of thoughts as to why Salander broke off contact with Blomkvist, it is portrayed in a very vague fashion within the context of the film. In fact, I am not even sure that viewers of the movie who haven’t read the book would even know why the movie begins with the characters this way.

The story kicks off with a journalist colleague pitching a story to cover in Millennium: Dag Svensson, alongside with his girlfriend, Mia Johansson, are working on a project to expose a massive illegal prostitution ring being run within Sweden that involves high-ranking officials such as police, judges, businessmen, and lawyers, with key connections to organized crime.

Meanwhile, Salander pays a visit to a lawyer named Bjurman -– a seedy individual who viciously raped her during the first story. The visit clearly establishes that Salander is in “control” of this affiliation, with her owning video evidence of his sexual assault on her. She suspects he is working out a way to either back out of this connection with her, or is working on a plan to threaten her again.

In the end, Salander’s uncertainties turn out to be correct. Bjurman ends up connected with the organized crime ring responsible for the sex trade being investigated by Millennium. Bjurman, along with the journalists, Svensson and Johansson, are viciously murdered — and the main suspect of the murder investigation? Lisbeth Salander.

The Girl Who Played With Fire kicks into overdrive at this point, while Blomkvist (confident Salander did not murder anyone) investigates the crimes to try and work out a way to clear his friend’s name. Salander, meanwhile, conducts her own research and investigation — a journey that will see her face-to-face with an adversary she thought she would never see again in her life.

The twists and turns by this point of the film are thrilling and exciting, and each new discovery along the way leads to another; this puzzle-piecing facet is testament to Larsson’s brilliance as a writer. The visual capture of Sweden on film is breathtaking in many shots, and really lends itself fabulously to the context of the film.

Nevertheless, like the first film, the show-stealer has to be Noomi Rapace. This gorgeous woman with an incredible stare has perfectly defined the character of Lisbeth Salander. Her performance is simply tremendous, and in an almost unforgiving manner, she slips into the life of Salander so easily providing a turbulent representation of the character that viewers will find both memorable and endearing — but most prominently, inspirational.

Michael Nyqvist‘s performance as Blomkvist in this film is comparable to his efforts in the first, though it comes across or feels like a notch down compared to Dragon Tattoo. The character in the novels is much more complicated than in the films, and in this one, director Daniel Alfredson attempts to bring more of those complex relationships to light. While these elements might come across as enjoyable “easter eggs” to fans of the book, these labors of including things (like his complicated sexual relationship with erika Berger) really do nothing to expand or explain the intricacies of Blomkvist as a character… in fact, they could be perceived as hurting it, making him look like “the other man” in an affair with a married woman, while the major complexities of this relationship are better suited for the novel.

An additional criticism would be the lack of film dedicated to the police investigators, Bublanski and Modig. Both are damn vital characters to the central developments in the second and third books, and their roles in this film felt cut down to a point where their significance is very much overlooked and sadly underplayed. I think I would have preferred further footage of these two integrating in the storyline, instead of the writers and directors trying to cram in elements of Blomkvist’s life that prove to be complicated to portray on screen.

While it would be fantastic to include all aspects of the novels in the film, realistically, it just isn’t possible, and thus (unfortunately) some things have to go. I was overjoyed, however, to see the inclusion of “The Blond Giant” in the film though — and boy, did the casting people certainly find a blond giant! This guy is HUGE, and he is just as I visualized him while reading the book: a giant, unfeeling, hulk of a brick outhouse that looks like he would devour Chuck Norris and Mr. T for breakfast as appetizers. He comes across as the most inhuman character out of Larsson’s lot. (Side note: the taser scene involving the Blond Giant is uber-hysterical. You will understand what I mean when you see it!)

For all intents and purposes, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a tale of rebirth and baptism, and is essentially an induction of Lisbeth Salander into the next phase of her life journey. This story, combined with the third, show her character develop — and overall highlight the real focus of Larsson’s books: trust and fate — and how they correlate to our life journey as humans.

And while I immensely enjoyed the film, I just cannot give it top marks unfortunately. While it sounds tacky to say that “the book was better than the film,” in this case the book IS better than the film — and I suppose my major criticism of the development of this movie was the misguided effort to cram elements from the book into it that didn’t help the film overall. On the other hand, there are some elements from the novel that curiously are overlooked and not included.

This misguidance affects the overall outcome of the film. Yet that is technically me being a picky geek, so don’t let it dissuade you from watching this. Notwithstanding the misguidance relating to source material, the final result is still impressive and is still an amazing film to watch. 4 out of 5 – Lisbeth Salander still kicks much ass in this adaptation, and Noomi Rapace should be awarded accolades for her exceptional performance. Let’s hope the U.S. adaptations of these stories live up to expectations — with these Swedish adaptations out there, they have very big shoes to fill.

U.S. Trailer

Swedish Trailer with English Subtitles

3 Comments »

  1. I thought The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a better movie overall but that is not to say that The Girl Who Played With Fire was bad by any means. I haven’t actually read the books yet (by choice) since I have found that when I watch a movie based heavily on a book I spend a lot of time comparing and contrasting and it takes away from the overall experience. For some reason though this does not seem to apply in reverse.

    Comment by Demonstrable — November 13, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

  2. This is the only movie out of the three that doesn’t differ too much from its book.

    My favorite is the finale, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest and I cannot wait for its DVD release.

    Comment by Brian — November 14, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

  3. I agree with Demonstrable – ALWAYS see the movie before reading the book. Or you will just be disappointed. Almost every time.

    Comment by Fred — November 15, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

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