The Girl Who Played with Fire Fizzles Out

Lisbeth shouldn't play with guns or matches.

The Girl Who Played with Fire
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
129 mins. Rated R (graphic lesbian sex, violence, nudity)
In Swedish with English subtitles
* *

The toughest part of a trilogy is the middle. Everyone knows it’s a device whose major purpose is to make us long for resolution. It’s hard enough for novelists to produce compelling second books and it’s even harder to treat them for movies. Seeing The Girl Who Played with Fire reminded me of what an extraordinary directorial job Peter Jackson did with The Two Towers, a film that may well have been the very best of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hardcore Stieg Larrson fans will flock to The Girl Who Played with Fire, but if they praise it, they’re filling in the film’s considerable gaps with things that simply aren’t there. I adored The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I found the sequel tedious and barely watchable.

You shouldn’t even try this film unless you’ve read Dragon or saw the first film. All the principals are reassembled: the troubled Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), editor and Blomkvist lover Erika Berger (Lena Enda), and masochistic guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson). In this episode, Lisbeth returns to Stockholm to take care of business and just has enough time to take possession of an expensive condo and have hot sex with Miriam Wu before she finds herself the prime suspect in a triple murder she didn’t commit. Stockholm police can’t seem to figure out what is obvious to Blomkvist—two of the victims were a couple working on stories about Sweden’s illegal sex trade and were people Lisbeth never met. The attempt to get to the bottom of everything—which we know they won’t do entirely because there’s a chapter left to film—gives us insight into Lisbeth’s childhood, the incident that led to being declared legally incompetent, and the dark underbelly of Sweden’s democratic-socialist society.

If you’ve read the book you know that it dwelt on substantial explorations of motives, the sort of interior stuff that’s exceedingly hard to depict on the screen. Alfredson’s decision was, simply, to excise most of it. Gone are most of the details about sex trafficking; in fact, the investigative team Dag and Mia hardly appear at all, except as corpses. Gone also is the mole inside Armanskij’s firm, the internal turmoil inside inspector Jan Bublanski’s police team, discussions of Stockholm’s lesbian subculture, explorations of Lisbeth’s thinking, Blomkvist’s philandering, Erika’s husband, and just about everything else that would elevate this film above what it turns out to feel like: a bad James Bond film with a rumpled journalist cast as Bond. I will say in Alfredson’s defense that some of the film’s most seemingly preposterous parts are actually true. There really is an ex-boxer named Paolo Roberto (who plays himself), and there really is a medical condition called congenital analgesia that makes people impervious to pain. (One of the biggest clusters of this rare condition is in Sweden, which is where Larsson no doubt got the idea.) But you don’t really need to remember this, as there are plenty of equally preposterous parts of the film that don’t correspond to reality.

As I said, Larsson junkies will have to see this film. The rest of you don’t and shouldn’t. Give the first film a watch and, if you like it, *read the second book. Word is that the final book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is disappointing so maybe Alfredson can redeem himself with a superior film adaptation. LV

Postscript—The Salander-Wu sex scene is just the latest head-scratcher in why an American version of this franchise is in the offing. Smart money is that this won’t be in the American version, at least not the way it was done in Sweden!

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