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The Girl Who Played With Fire

Noomi Rapace in "The Girl Who Played With Fire"

That Girl: The Girl Who Played With Fire

It’s a little difficult to take the measure of The Girl Who Played With Fire, the film adaptation of the second in the late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of novels that has become an enormous international publishing success. The movie is often involving and tense, but it’s also essentially little more than a cinematic transition between the first movie in this triparte series, Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and the upcoming third one.

The first one was pretty close to an independent, stand-alone feature, even if it finally had a slightly unresolved feel at the end. But this Girl is blatantly a tease, with almost everything of narrative significance left up in the air at its abrupt ending. Devotees of the novels, who helped make the previous movie one of the largest foreign-language grossers in the US in recent years, presumably will have no problem with this, but the uninitiated may suffer a sort of cognition interruptus. On the other hand, this may turn out to be a canny marketing strategy to hook the audience. (And it’s mildly interesting to speculate abut whether the forthcoming American film of The Girl With the Tiger Tattoo will be able to translate this starkly violent, somehow firmly Scandinavian story into Yank terms and tap into a larger market.)

The kick-ass, supremely skilled computer-hacking Girl at the center of the stories, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), returns to Sweden at the beginning of this one after a year of globe-trotting, and is promptly involved in a multiple-murder case and the lethal, tentacled outreach of an international prostitution ring. The man whose life she saved last time, crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyquist), is pursuing a big story about well placed clients of this nasty traffic, after the young freelancer who brought the story to Blomkvist’s magazine is murdered. Lisbeth’s hidden backstory is revealed to be crucially entailed in these events, and soon she’s sought by both the police and the killers. Blomkvist searches for her too.

That’s the movie’s primary thrust, but its velocity and accumulating turns and twists may be a little hard to follow for those who aren’t members of the legion of Larssonaholics. It’s a reflection of the craft of the director, Daniel Alfredson, that he managed to keep the film as intense and entertaining as it is, given the handicap he worked under. It’s obvious Larsson’s novel has been disassembled and recomposed in severely compressed form. Characters and events often come and go with scant preparation or information. But Alfredson has made this Girl so propulsive and tense (it’s also more brutal than the first one) that these deficiencies are rather less of a distraction than they might have been. His camera work and editing (Stockholm is handsomely presented) lend the movie a more varied visual and aural atmosphere than, for example, the current slambang, bombastic Angelina Jolie spy vehicle, Salt. (Rapace is also a more credible action heroine than Jolie.)

But her character, and the movie itself, are a little strange in at least one regard. In one of several instances of stilted dialogue, Blomkvist says of Lisbeth, “She despises men who hate women.” (The Swedish title of Larsson’s first novel in the trilogy was Men Who Hate Women.) In his and Lisbeth’s worldview and experience, there are a lot of them. But the movie, more than its predecessor, doesn’t quite make clear why. It sometimes seems to be conflating rape and paid sex. And this seems to imply a bemusing question about what Larsson may have been trying to say about Sweden’s ostensibly socially and politically enlightened society.

Watch the trailer for The Girl Who Played With Fire

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