Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Michalis Koutsogiannakis, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Jacob Ericksson, Reuben Sallmander, Yasmine Garbi, Ralph Carlsson, Georgi Staykov, Hans Christian Thulin, Jennie Silfverhjelm, Per Oscarsson
Written by: Jonas Frykberg, based on a novel by Stieg Larsson
Directed by: Daniel Alfredson
MPAA Rating: R for brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language
Language: Swedish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 129
Date: 09/18/2009

The Girl Who Played with Fire (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Flaming Features

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The second part of Stieg Larsson's posthumous "Millennium Trilogy" hits the big screen with a little less impact than the first installment, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There, Larsson, along with the filmmakers, managed to make a pretty routine thriller seem very deep thanks to the crossing of two fascinating, mismatched characters, some Nazi history and an inflated running time. The Girl Who Played with Fire is centered mostly in the present day, and though our two heroes -- researcher/computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) -- are apart for almost the entire running time, they are at least in each other's thoughts.

It begins as Mikael's Millennium Magazine hires a new reporter (Hans Christian Thulin), who has been working on a story about immigrant prostitutes and their high-profile johns. Before long, the new reporter and his girlfriend have been brutally murdered. At the same time, the sleazebag rapist lawyer -- who is Lisbeth's probationary guardian -- is also murdered. The only possible connection between the murders is Lisbeth herself, so she is named as the prime suspect. Thankfully, Lisbeth is pretty smart and has hidden herself well enough that she can begin proving her innocence. Likewise, Mikael knows she is innocent and begins working on the mystery from his end.

This is a pretty good setup for what might be a routine Hollywood thriller. There's even an oversized, almost supernatural thug that reminded me of Richard Kiel's "Jaws" from the James Bond movies. And of course, all this snooping and digging for leads comes complete with fight scenes, chase scenes, disguises, secret files, daring escapes, and last-minute rescues. It's fluff, a B-picture, but it's a well-made and effective one. I think the mistake is in assuming that because it's Swedish and has subtitles that it's a work of art.

This second movie has a new director, Daniel Alfredson -- the brother of director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) and son of actor Daniel Alfredson -- and his style is less literate and a little more open-aired than his predecessor Niels Arden Oplev. This movie seems to breathe a little easier; it's more comfortable in its skin. It understands that we can get to know these characters even if they're not talking all the time. Shots of Mikael and Lisbeth staring at computer screens or out picture windows are just as effective as any of the plot twists.

Nonetheless, there's an imbalance here between hype, art and pulp, and it's difficult to approach the movie without some preconceived notions. The same thing happened to Christopher Nolan's Inception this past summer; it was a popcorn movie that became blown entirely out of proportion. The Girl Who Played with Fire is pure, good pulp; it should not be confused with art, and the hype should definitely not be believed. (Note: as The Girl Who Played with Fire hits DVD in October of 2010, the third chapter, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is reaching U.S. theaters, and the reviews are far less enthusiastic.)

The DVD from Music Box Films comes with an optional English-dubbed track and a trailer.

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