Film Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire

Second film adaptation in the phenomenally successful Stieg Larsson crime-novel trilogy is every bit as entertaining as <i>The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo</i>. Great filmmaking and acting throughout, especially from returning leads Noomi Rapace and Michae

It’s hardly the heyday when bestsellers spawned movie blockbusters (e.g., Warner Bros. in the ’30s and ’40s, and ’50s and ’60s tomes from the likes of Fleming, Mailer, Susann and Jaffe). But the book hook is back big-time by way of Sweden, of all places, with the late Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. (You can’t pass through bookstores like the vast Harvard Coop without bumping into a Larsson table.)

On the heels of the smash The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film adaptation comes Daniel Alfredson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire, which should further prove that, at least among more demanding filmgoers, literature, like comics, graphic novels and TV shows in today’s world, can beget movies that get people into theatre seats.

Alfredson, directing every bit as skillfully as Tattoo helmer Niels Arden Oplev, also has the advantage of intoxicating leads Rapace and Nyqvist reprising their roles. In this second installment, a year has passed since brilliant, screwed-up young hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) left Stockholm for the Cayman Islands to enjoy rest, relaxation and riches after helping left-wing magazine publisher/journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) outsmart an evil coven of ex-Nazis and a corrupt financier.

Hacking into Mikael’s computer and learning his magazine is now investigating a nefarious sex-trafficking ring operating between Sweden and Eastern Europe, Lisbeth, ever the loner, slinks back into Stockholm to work in anonymity on the case. As Mikael and his Millennium magazine editor and sometime-lover Erika (Lena Endre) and colleagues dig into the story, the team brings on board a freelance writer and his girlfriend, who has a trove of information about the traffickers because of her doctoral research. The pair come up with names of well-known, well-placed Swedes who are implicated and Millennium is about to go with the story when the pair is murdered.

Also bleeding into the intrigue is the heinous Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), a perverted, corrupt lawyer who served as Lisbeth’s abusive court-appointed guardian. An extreme sadist avenged by Lisbeth before her flight to the Caymans, Bjurman, implicated in the sex trafficking, is desperate to retrieve a video documenting his vicious sexual assault of Lisbeth, but he too meets a bad end.

Lisbeth, who has set up her beautiful Eurasian lover-of-the-moment Miriam (Yasmine Garbi) in an apartment, slips into anonymity in order to solve the crimes and elude authorities, as her fingerprints found on one of the murder weapons make her the prime suspect. Her dodgy background and sinister appearance—nose rings, a penchant for black leather, butch posturing—are no help.

Mikael, who had an affair with Lisbeth before her escape to the Caymans, knows she’s innocent, a minority view not shared by dogged police inspector Jan Bublanski (Johan Kylen) and his crew. Meanwhile, the well-connected Alexander “Zala” Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), a menacing big cog in the trafficking wheel and former Soviet spy, and his hulking blond German henchman Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) resort to any means to keep their enemies at bay.

The solitary Lisbeth and determined Mikael move forward on independent fronts. They don’t meet, but each has contact with her elderly former legal protector Holger Palmgren (Per Oscarsson), now confined to a rest home after a stroke. Throughout the intrigue, as the authorities and Zala and Niedermann close in on Lisbeth and Mikael struggles to find her, some of Lisbeth’s horrid past is revealed: her awful family background, including the torching of her sadistic father, and her government-ordered confinement and oversight by the horrible Bjurman.

Along with thrills come some shocking surprises, which may stun or dismay. And the fate of some key characters is left as bait for the next Larsson installment. The Girl Who Played with Fire is awash in a multitude of players, plot threads and twists that occasionally confound.

But performances, suspenseful direction, rapid-fire editing and eye-pleasing cinematography (featuring riveting close-ups and plenty of Stockholm and Gotesberg local color) are all very fine. And Jacob Groth’s edgy score assures the proximity of the unexpected.

Art-house fans, even those who have not tackled the novels or previous film, should run to The Girl Who Played with Fire, since this lit-based film, like its predecessor, stands on its own very sturdy cinematic ground. It doesn’t hurt that all three Larsson novels, including the just-published third installment, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, are now covering bestseller lists like wallpaper.