Monday, November 8, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Why are the headlights still on?
Aww, yeah!  It's Swedish sequel time!  Interesting side note: if you do a Google image search for "Swedish sequel," you may find this.  Hot on the heels of the hit Swedish-language film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the next part of the Millennium Series just hit DVD shelves.  This is the adaptation of Steig Larsson's book of the same name, which was a world-wide best seller.  The film was released just seven months after Dragon Tattoo and just two months before the final entry in the series, so you know these Swedes are trying to hit while the iron's hot.  The budget was slashed for the sequels --- it was assumed by the producers that the sequels would be direct-to-DVD, but the $100 million dollar success of the first film changed that --- which usually isn't a good sign.  How did it turn out?  Let's find out.

Over a year has passed since the events of Dragon Tattoo, and the heroine Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) returns home to Sweden after a year abroad.  She tries to keep a relatively low profile, partially because she does a lot of illegal computer hacking and partially because she is blackmailing her guardian officer (it's like a parole officer for formerly institutionalized Swedes) into giving her glowing development reviews.  As such, Lisbeth lets her friend and sometime girlfriend, Mia, stay at her old apartment, rent free.  Meanwhile, Lisbeth's old pal Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) and his co-workers at Millenium magazine are preparing an expose into human trafficking and prostitution.  When the reporter who is writing the article is found murdered with his wife, the police are able to trace the gun used back to Lisbeth's guardian officer.  That's good.  But he's dead and Lisbeth's fingerprints are all over the gun.  That's bad.  The police naturally start a womanhunt for Lisbeth, but they aren't the only ones looking for her; some scary dudes involved in the drug trade are also in the hunt.  Hey, Mia, I bet that free apartment doesn't sound so great now.  Mikael decides to use his investigative eye to help Lisbeth, but it is ultimately up to her to find out who has framed her and why.

Like the last film, Played With Fire is fairly plot heavy; unlike the last film, it is less of a mystery and more of a thriller.  Daniel Alfredson takes over the directing chair this time, but I didn't notice any difference in style from the first one.  So, either this is the best sequel ever for maintaining the look and feel of its predecessor, or maybe Swedes just don't have any style.  The acting in this movie is both better and worse than the last film.  Noomi Rapace turns in a far superior performance in this film; she spends some time acting, instead of just posing as a surly Goth chick.  There is almost no screen time shared between Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, which helps build up the strength of her character.  Nyqvist's performance definitely suffered without Rapace's Goth-crazy to fuel him; I would rate him at four out of five on the "dead behind the eyes" scale.  For those scoring at home, a dumb eight year-old in a calculus class gets a one, and these hacks pull a perfect five.  The supporting cast is, surprisingly, a little better this time around, with former boxer Paulo Roberto playing himself (but not Mike Tyson making a cameo, this guy had a substantial role) and Micke Spreitz essentially playing the Swedish version of Kevin Nash's Russian from The Punisher; that means that he is big and blonde, and when he gets hit, he just looks confused instead of hurt.

There is a lot to like in this movie.  I was impressed by how much Roomi Rapace improved from film to film, and I liked her character more this time around.  It helps that she's portrayed as less crazy than in the first film.  I always enjoy seemingly indestructible villains (like Spreitz), so that was fun for me, too.  There is a lot more action and violence in this movie, including some fairly realistic (and still pretty bad ass) moves from Rapace, several gunshot wounds, and somebody getting an axe to the head.  Along with the violence, this movie brings the sex, too, with a moderately graphic (by American standards) lesbian scene.  The film's pace is probably the best thing about it; a lot happens in this movie, including research, but the characters are always moving, which really helps even the slow parts seem active.

Unfortunately, pacing doesn't hide all of the movie's shortcomings.  I am all for films that want the viewers to figure out what is going on, but I didn't appreciate the vast difference between telling Mikael and Lisbeth's parts of the story.  Whenever Michael was going to do something, he explained it first to someone else, and then did it.  Lisbeth would stare at a computer screen and then abruptly choose to do something, sometimes even going to a spot where Mikael had been only a few scenes before.  Yes, I realize that Lisbeth had access to Mikael's computer and was taking information from him and applying it to her own, but I think that explanation could have been mentioned once in the film, at least; there were times where I had to figure out why she was going wherever she was going, and that was distracting.  I wasn't a huge fan of the story itself, although I liked the way it was told; when you boil things down to their core, this is a story that seems more at home in a comic book or a professional wrestling ring than in a thriller.  And, again, I wish the story depended less on Mikael to figure things out, because Nyqvist's emotional range varies from sleepy-eyed indifference to sleepy-eyed mild surprise.  Even with Rapace's performance, this movie sorely misses the feel of genuine acting, as there is little to no need for chemistry between characters when they're just running from place to place.

Overall, I think fans of the book will be just fine with this adaptation.  It is better than it should be, given the budget, and definitely feels like the next chapter in the story.  I don't think the story is nearly as strong this time around, but the frenetic pace almost makes that point moot.  I will admit, though, that I am a sucker for the thriller genre.

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