In the second installment of the cinematic adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium trilogy, which opens today, audiences are expected to catch up pretty quickly with events that took place in preceding installment The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but this proviso is part of the appeal of this hard-edged series of thrillers.
Although the direction has changed hands, with Daniel Alfredson taking over responsibilities from Niels Arden Oplev, there is the same fierce energy about the filmmaking, which requires audiences to pay attention and keep up. While there is much wrong with The Girl Who Played With Fire, this expectation of engagement, and the respect for the viewers that it conveys, raises the film well above the level of many brasher and brighter Hollywood products.
For audiences who have not engaged with the character of Lisbeth Salander (once again gloriously realized by Noomi Rapace), the first 15 minutes of the movie are like diving into freezing water, and it is to director Alfredson’s credit that he does not leave the viewer floundering, as the action very quickly pulls clear of the initial confusion. There is plenty of story in The Girl Who Played With Fire, but the central relationship that made Dragon Tattoo such a pleasure is attenuated, with Salander and her sometime lover and confidant Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) only meeting in the final moments of the film. For the rest of the time, they interact through cyberspace, often wordlessly.
It must be said at this point, for those unfamiliar with the series, that Salander is not a woman who wants to be found, even by those she holds most dear. She lives a hidden life, engaging with the world online. This second installment sharpens the contrast between her arm’s-length contact with society, and the sexually violent and physical background that is central to her existence. This is a story that provides us with clues to Salander’s shy, needy and sometimes vicious personality.
The Girl Who Played With Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)
DIRECTED BY: Daniel Alfredson
STARRING: Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander), Michael Nyqvist (Mikael Blomkvist), Lena Endre (Erika Berger), Sofia Ledarp (Malin Erikson), Micke Spreitz (Ronald Niedermann), Georgi Staykov (Alexander Zalachenko)
RUNNING TIME: 129 MINUTES
Language: Swedish with Chinese subtitles
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
There is far too much backstory to make even a cursory synopsis much use, so suffice to say that The Girl Who Plays With Fire sees Blomkvist and the Millennium magazine, of which he is an editor, engaged with a young investigative journalist in uncovering a ring of people traffickers. The head of this ring is linked to Salander, who becomes the scapegoat for a series of bloody killings. Only by working together can Blomkvist get the story and Salander stay clear of the law.
Rapace has created a splendid character in Salander, who is a bewildering mixture of anger, fear, vulnerability, smarts and formidable memories. There are moments of surprising intimacy, one of the most effective being a scene that has Rapace doing nothing more than sitting in a car looking at her smart phone.
In a desperate search for Salander, Blomkvist breaks into her house, and sets off her alarm in the process. The CCTV at her home links to her phone and Salander sees her old friend, who until then she has not quite trusted enough to contact directly, coming through her front door. As Blomkvist awaits the sirens, Salander disengages the alarm, wordlessly granting him access. There is an intimacy to her action, tenderness to a friend; she sees him only through a blurry on-screen image transmitted over a wireless network. They do not talk, but in deactivating the alarm, she gives him access to herself.