Sunday, September 19, 2010

Film Review #233: The Girl Who Played with Fire
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Per Oscrasson

“I used to live in that city!” exclaimed one of my companions as Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) arrives in Göteborg on Sweden’s southwest coast, having driven the 250 miles or so from one side of the country – the capital city of Stockholm in the east – to the other through the night, in search of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who’s made the same journey a few hours ahead of him. “And I made that same drive every week I was there,” she added.

Most US audiences watching The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second of the Swedish screen versions of the late Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy novels, won’t have that advantage, or even know that the filmmakers actually shot the Göteborg scenes on location (even IMDB gets that wrong). But Swedish audiences will know that, especially those who actually live in and around Göteborg, where the film had a special screening at that city’s international film festival in January.

I mention this because there’s been some grumbling about this film and you should not let it keep you away. This installment retains key cast members – the remarkable Rapace as fugitive computer-hacker Salander and Nyqvist as Millennium magazine publisher Blomkvist; also Lena Endre as Erika Berger, Blomkvist’s editor-with-benefits, and Peter Andersson as Salander’s slimy legal guardian, Nils Bjurman – and also wisely kept on Jacob Groth to provide the understated but hugely effective, disturbing score. (A word about US-tailored promotion: the image on the movie poster appears nowhere in this film and the trailer’s generic thriller music may come from some movie but not this one.) But this film has switched directors (from the virtuoso Niels Arden Oplev to the more workman-like Daniel Alfredson) and cinematographers (from Jens Fischer and Erik Kress to Peter Mokrosinski, whose look is considerably more workmanlike and sometimes out of focus for no discernibly good reason). And you might spend some time objecting to both. But – proof of the pudding – this film is over two hours long, and I didn’t wonder once how soon we’d get there, especially during the rising dread of the second half.

In Played with Fire, crusading publisher Blomkvist hasn’t seen Salander for a year. (The first film ended with hints – a glimpse of her exiting an expensive car, dressed with uncharacteristic elegance, at some clearly exclusive tropical resort – though this new film neglects her sojourn there, which occupies a significant section of the novel, cutting to the chase of her Stockholm return.) Instead a breaking story about a sex-trafficking ring occupies Blomkvist, until the young couple who’ve researched that turn up executed and the police blame Salander. Sure that she’ll contact him, he sets about solving the murders and her connection, as his Millennium editorial staff set about finishing and publishing the story. Along the way – the reason for that cross-country dash – Salander finds her long-lost father (Georgi Staykov), determined to finish with an axe what she started as a child with a match and a gas can.

What carries this film is the intriguing, increasingly layered and unconventional relationship between Blomkvist and Salander (those in turn carried by wonderful lead performances – I particularly recommend Rapace’s extended scene of reunion with her father). In a story about how we know the truth about anyone else, it’s worth thinking about how they have come to utterly trust one another. They don’t physically share a single scene until the end, but the film extends their virtual relationship with convincing immediacy; in one scene Salander turns off a door alarm with three seconds to go – watching Blomkvist remotely on a security camera – from the other side of Sweden. And amidst much deeply sordid behavior, Blomkvist isn’t the only good man here; there’s the young free-lancer Dag, Salander’s old advocate Holger Palmgren (Per Oscarsson, from the 1966 classic Hunger), and a promising cop named Bublanski. I’m more than ready to see where #3 goes.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo packed Manlius Cinema in April. Nat Tobin is pretty sure he’ll keep Played with Fire around a couple weeks anyway, and reminded Friday night’s crowd that the finale – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – has a mid-October US release. He’s also arranged for a one-time screening at 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday, the 31st, of the documentary Millennium, about the book-to-movie project with Larsson’s novels. That screens at Manlius Library (in the Village Center plaza, past Little Cesar’s Pizza).

This review appears in the August 26, 2010 print edition of The Eagle weekly. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is screening locally at Manlius Art Cinema. Next Tuesday, August 31st, at 6:30 p.m. you can also see the documentary “Millennium,” about Steig Larson and the Millennium Trilogy novels, at Manlius Library.