Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire (Daniel Alfredson, 2010)

The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second film adaptation of Steig Larsson's popular Millenium Trilogy, following the events of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The film opens with Mikael Blomqvist and his team welcoming an ambitious new journalist, Dag Svensson, to Millennium Magazine. Dag and his girlfriend are investigating for an article to expose the prevalence of prostitution and sex trafficking rackets in Sweden. Dag has all but completed the article, but is tying up loose ends and continues to confront the men (referred to as Johns) to be exposed within. Lisbeth, who begins the film abroad in the Caribbean, returns to Sweden and purchases a place in Stockholm. She offers a friend of hers (Miriam) free use of her old apartment and pays her corrupt guardian a visit, threatening him at gunpoint to never remove the tattoo she inscribed on his stomach and to continue sending in glowing reports of her behavior. She keeps a tape of his rape of her which she threatens to expose to the world if he fails to cooperate. But Bjurman, in a desperate attempt to claim back the footage on the tape, collaborates with a man known as Zala, revealed later to be the leader of the trafficking ring under investigation, to solve his problem. Blomqvist discovers Dag and his girlfriend executed in their apartment, with the gun linked at first to Bjurman, who is also discovered dead. Lisbeth is framed for all three murders, and must evade both her continued pursuers and the authorities to clear her name. Only Blomqvist is convinced of her innocence and begins to investigate the trafficking ring himself for a link to the killers. He questions some of the men included in Dag's notes, and seeks out Lisbeth who has gone into hiding, through a boxing acquaintance (Paolo).
The combat sequences are amateurishly choreographed, as is most of the cinematography, with the exception of a few sequences. One such notable is a brief but exciting car chase, which sees Paolo try and rescue Lisbeth's abducted friend, Miriam, who is set to be brutally interrogated to reveal her whereabouts. When he eventually tries to overcome the indestructible blond henchman, both he and Miriam are left beaten and unconscious inside an isolated barn, which is then set alight with them still trapped inside. The camera lingers on the burning barn, with the flames licking at the gasoline, marveling at this spectacle. In the background, to the ignorance of the henchman, the pair escape. This is one of the most exciting sequences in the film but it really felt staged and unpolished, which disappointingly, is a feature obvious throughout the film.
The plot all but rejects the events in the first film, with the exception of the Bjurman rape, and offers a fresh angle for the characters and avoids retreading similar content. The plot of The Girl Who Played with Fire delves into Lisbeth's past and most notably the attempted murder of her step-father with lit gasoline that resulted in her commitment to a psych ward. He had survived but albeit forever crippled and scarred from the burns. It is revealed that he assumes the identity of Zala, a fact that Blomqvist discovers quite late in the film, and while it is supposed to be a major revelation it doesn't successfully resonate as one. Zala is the leader of the trafficking racket, and responsible for ordering the trio of murders. Lisbeth locates his residence and escapes alone to confront him herself. Blomqvist, trying to convince the police and media that Lisbeth is innocent is always a few steps behind and tracks her to her step-father's house and presses to save her.
Zala's henchman conveniently suffers from congenital analgesia, or an inability to feel pain. Throughout the film, his indestructibility is placed under serious doubt and I found this reasoning to be ridiculously convenient. There is much discussion and deliberation assigned to questioning who this guy really is, and it feels like wasted time. The violence is brutal and bloody and the early sex scenes are actually quite explicit, but further revealed Lisbeth's homosexual urges. I was disappointed by Blomqvist's involvement here, as he obviously cares for Lisbeth but wound up sleeping with his colleague from the magazine for most of the film. Lisbeth has most of the screen time, which I felt she was owed from the first film, as she desperately tries to evade discovery and manhandle her pursuers. Having not read the novel, I'm not sure how engaging it is to read, but I felt the script was a genuine mess and I was often bored.
Lisbeth is a great character and Noomy Rapace gives a solid performance, as does Michael Nyqvist as Blomqvist, but it was poorly timed and directed (this time by Daniel Alfredson) and technically it was unpolished and lacked ambition or imagination. I thought it also lacked the atmosphere of the first film that was capable of generating the suspense that many of the scenes warranted. Overall, I found this to be quite an average addition to this trilogy. I was never really engaged or immersed in the plot. While The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo adopted the classic style of the cosy school whodunit, I felt this was left wallowing in the commonly examined story of human trafficking without ever seeking to add an original style or an agenda beyond faithfully adapting the novel to the screen. I guess the overall strength of the trilogy, if you are to consider the films in their entirety, will be determined by the final chapter, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, set for release in 2011.

My Rating: 2 1/2 Stars


  1. Thanks for this review. I read the book but did see the movie, and my review is here:

    It sometimes baffles me a bit as to why the books are so popular. I had a hard time following all of the characters. But from what I can see based on movie and book reviews, the book was better.


  2. Yeah I haven't read the novels, and I only became aware of them when the first film was due to be released! I think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would have been a great read, but this one I'm not so sure. The plot is a bit of a mess, but that may have been the adapted screenplay, condensed down to shorten the film. The image also seems to be dense with words from the novel, and it seems content to just bring the novel to the screen without taking into account the different medium, failing to create any atmosphere or utilize any techniques to enhance our engagement to it. Thanks for reading. I enjoyed reading your comments abut the novel and sex trafficking, and I must agree that it's existence is raised but it is never examined in any depth in the film, and I also thought the sex scenes were unnecessary.

    Take care


  3. Finally saw this yesterday, very underwhelming. I was a big fan of the first installment and thought it worked great as a murder mystery/serial killer flick with two really interesting characters at the its heart but this follow up was pedestrian at best. The direction frustrated me as style or flair at all to make anything engaging or suspenseful. Damn shame.

  4. Yeah man I loved the cosy school detective mystery atmosphere of the first, with the two parallel stories converging. This one had some really dumb moments and as you said, pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. The script was a mess, it was poorly directed, it didn't really examine the issues of trafficking at all, and it was all too convenient with a horrendously out-of-place bond-like villain. Yeah i wasn't a fan at all.