Sunday, 17 July 2011

Movie Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)


Too much plot and too many loose ends, The Girl Who Played With Fire suffers from the Middle Chapter of the Trilogy Syndrome. Not as fresh as the original and unable to arrive at any conclusions, it's a rickety bridge between the crisp opening and the decisive ending of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series.

Young and enthusiastic reporter Dag Svensson and his girlfriend Mia are investigating human smuggling and the European prostitution trade. They have an explosive story on their hands, exposing corruption at the highest levels. Dag joins the staff of the investigative Millennium magazine, where the legendary Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) works, to polish off the story and prepare it for publication.

Meanwhile Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) returns to Stockholm from some globe-trotting to reconnect with her lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi), and to intimidate her state-appointed guardian and former torturer Bjurman. To scare him into promptly filing his reports about her good behaviour, Lisbeth threatens Bjurman with his own gun. But Bjurman is tired of Salander controlling him (she has a blackmail tape), and contacts shady associates to solve his Lisbeth problem.

Before long, Mikael finds both Dag and Mia shot dead; the murder gun belongs to Bjurman and carries Lisbeth's fingerprints, making her the prime suspect in a double murder. She stays hidden, disguised and beyond the clutches of the law, but her case isn't helped when Bjurman also shows up dead. Mikael is convinced that Lisbeth is being set up, and launches his own investigation to help clear her name.

The trail leads to a mysterious man codenamed Zala who appears to be the criminal mastermind responsible for the murders, with the dirty work done by his brutal henchman, the blond and muscular Niedermann. From separate starting points, Mikael and Lisbeth close in on Zala, and gradually it becomes apparent that both Zala and Niedermann are closely intertwined with Lisbeth's painful past.

The performances of Rapace and Nyqvist are the main positives in an otherwise overcrowded and clumsy film. Rapace is all delightful darkness, a woman who long since abandoned trust in the system and invented her rules for survival. Nyqvist as Mikael Blomqvist balances some conformance to society's rules with a natural tendency to do his own thing in his own world weary way.

Beyond these two performances, The Girl Who Played With Fire suffers from a multitude of characters introduced in a hurry and never properly fleshed out, and a runaway plot that features numerous developments trickling in all directions, most of which are left hanging. There is no satisfying resolution to the three murders that propel the action, and the entire human trafficking and prostitution plot is introduced with great enthusiasm and then simply abandoned. Director Daniel Alfredson is unable to even pretend that this episode is anything other than a pass-through to what should be a much better ending to the story.

The movie is also hampered by extremely limited interaction between Lisbeth and Mikael. They exchange a few e-mails and share a single non-communicative scene at the very end: their complex relationship is at the heart of the drama, and the Ulf Ryberg screenplay basically puts it on ice for over two hours.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is an overstuffed meal, too many ingredients competing for attention, and delivering an unsatisfying, bloated and burp inducing experience.





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