The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009) movie poster

(2009) director Daniel Alfredson
viewed: 12/09/10

The Girl Who Played with Fire, which for those of you who somehow have missed out on this literary phenomenon, is the first sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009).  Where the books have reached an extreme ubiquity over the past year in America (having already achieved that across Europe), these films, adapted, written, directed, and produced in the story’s native Sweden, are a mini-phenomenon in themselves.  Writer Stieg Larsson didn’t live to see his explosion into international fame or his character of Lisbeth Salander become such a popular heroine, but it’s a legacy that still seems to be growing.

Larsson wrote The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked a Hornets Nest, known as “the Millennium trilogy” before dying suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 50.  This series of films, which star Noomi Rapace as Salander and Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist, and are shot in Sweden, in Swedish, will soon be followed up by an American series staring Rooney Mara as Salander and Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and which are slated to be directed by David Fincher (The Social Network (2010), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Zodiac (2007)).  So, the overkill hasn’t reached a crescendo yet.

Earlier this year, I read the first two of Larsson’s books, and then in Spring, I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I haven’t yet read nor seen the final chapter in the trilogy (I’ve been kind of waiting for it to come out in paperback).  And I couldn’t muster the desire to get out to see this film in the theater, though I did manage to watch the first one in the theater.  The final film is still playing in the theaters at the moment, I believe, so shouldn’t be too long off for DVD.

The thing about this series is that Noomi Rapace pretty much exactly embodies Lisbeth Salander, the way I imagined her, and probably the way a lot of people imagined her.  She has the “look” but Rapace does a good job channelling the mixture of rage, fear, intellect, privacy, and wit of the character.  And as much as Nyqvist fits Blomkvist, the whole series is really much more about the gothy misanthropist computer whiz detective than anything else.  That and violence against women.  And Rapace is great.  It’s hard to imagine what Fincher and Rooney think they can bring that hasn’t been brought.

Well, actually, Fincher is no doubt a much more adept film-maker.

The films are competent, but challenged by bloated, convoluted stories.  I felt myself on the verge of confusion during The Girl Who Played with Fire despite having read the book.  There is so much to pack in and the film skips along almost like a Cliffs Notes version of events.  Director Daniel Alfredson, like director Niels Arden Oplev before him in the first film, tries to rein in the whole of the big story to suit the avid fans, and does so at the cost of making a completely comprehensible film.   I mean, by the end of the film, I was more confused about the connection between the super villain and the international prostitution ring even though one can guess that they are connected.

In the end, I realize that I’m suffering from a bit of fatigue with this series.  Rather than hyped up to read the finale (or go see it in theaters), I’m languishing back, wondering what is the best approach to me to closing out the trilogy for myself, in book or in film (or both as I’ve done so far).  But there is still that David Fincher version, due in theaters next year.  I’m guessing that a lot of people will never see these Swedish films (or at least that is the marketing supposition behind re-making the films).  As I said, the overkill has probably not yet begun to crest.

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