Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

"If You're Going to Have a Nasty Habit, You Might As Well Do It in Style"

It has been a year since Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the multi-hyphenated* titular anti-hero of the "Millennium" series (or "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") skipped off with a fortune to travel the world on the run from the slugs of Swedish officialdom who might exact revenge.

As if...

Now, she is pulled back to Sweden, against her better judgement, moving in relative obscurity; her only connection to her partner-in-investigating Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) is virtual, connected to his computer hard-drive.  Though she continually scours what he's investigating and reads his columns, there hasn't been contact, e-mail, text, or ping between them in that entire year.

She's been busy enough, though.  The events of the first film perpetrated by "The Girl Who Played With Fire" are coming back to haunt her, as she is evidentially linked to the murders of a "Millennium" journalist (Hans Christian Thulin) and his girlfriend, who have been working on exposing Swedish sex-traffickers with some highly placed officials as customers.  That those homicides also lead to the murder of Salander's former "guardian" (in name only) Nils Erik Burman (Peter Andersson), on whom Salander exacted a brutally appropriate revenge in the last film, only make the hunt for her more intense.

This time it's personal (as they say in the trailers).  And the fascinating Salander becomes the focus of this story that has her confronting her demons while tangentially attempting to clear her name.  In the center of the story, while simultaneously watching from the sidelines, Blomqvist can only dog the elusive hacker's trail, learning more about his enigmatic co-hort/lover and what stokes the fire in her belly, a fire that actually turns the calm, collected Blomqvist into one very angry man, staunchly defending her, while coming to grips with the reasons she "despises men who hate women."

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" (directed by Daniel Alfredson) is not as good a film, or as fine a mystery as "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," being much less convoluted (and thus intriguing) and a little more by-the-numbers as far as plotting.  There's no real mystery here, as opposed to the first film (and book), but it focuses on what fascinated—and made one vaguely uncomfortable—about the first part of what will ultimately be a trilogy:  Salander's burning desire to not just see justice done, but to exact her personal revenge—coldly, clinically, savagely.  That it has a feminist slant (and one winces at using the word—these are crimes against human beings, sexually and power-abuse based, that just happen to be women) of turning the tables gives it a certain satisfaction, but I've seen too many Eastwood-directed movies (...heh...) to be entirely comfortable with the vigilante justice angle. 

What makes it work, finally, are the lead characters, especially the unconventional renegade that is Salander.  Her heart's in the right place, even though her soul is damaged, and the mandarin restraint that Rapace brings her is only betrayed a notch here, but even that still ends up breaking your heart.  You can't help but root for her, despite the kindling she leaves in her wake.

And she does leave kindling.  The violence that made one queasy about the first film is only slightly muted here, and concentrated to the back-end of the story—a set-piece of violence and tension that contains no catharsis but merely stops, unresolved, leaving the fate of Salander up in the air.

Not to worry, though.  The last book, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" rides the top of the New York Times Best Seller List and looks to be there for quite awhile.  The third film comes out in the Fall.  Can't wait.

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" is a Matinee.

* In my review of the first film I described her thus: "a 22 year old full-time goth-punk chain-smoking, bi-sexual, PTSD'd borderline-schizophrenic, sociopathic, fire-fixated security-investigator-computer-hacker...and part-time judge, jury and executioner.  Add to that Blomqvist's inadequate (and slightly hilarious) description of her as "...a very private person."

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