Peter Eramo Reviews: The Girl Who Played With Fire (** ½)

Sequels are a tough breed — and a bit of a bitch to get right. Recent history has shown that it is the rare film indeed that can stand up to its predecessor, let alone best it. Let me start by saying that I thought that Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (released earlier this year) was a marvelous film — powerful, gripping, haunting, and vastly entertaining (see my review here). As of this posting, it remains the best movie of the year in my opinion – it really isn’t even close. That was the first film of the trilogy based on the bestselling novels by the late Stieg Larsson. I have not read the books and didn’t know much about them at all, so the first film caught me completely off guard in the very best of ways. Then The Girl Who Played With Fire came out recently to lukewarm reviews, but I loved the first film so much and was so thoroughly impressed with its towering achievement that I most certainly had to check it for for myself.

Sadly, I must agree with the general consensus that this 2nd installment — directed by Daniel Alfredson (and not Oplev, which may have been a detriment) — doesn’t come close to touching the first. I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who says otherwise. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but there is so much wrong with it that it doesn’t make up for its intriguing storyline, frequent plot twists, and overall mystery. This film, by contrast, seems scattered and disjointed. The character development that was done so brilliantly in the first film is altogether lost here. The pacing is also somewhat slower, with the action taking the viewer to numerous locations throughout Sweden rather than keeping it centered and focused.

Part of what made the original so compelling was its two lead characters: the ever-resourceful Lisbeth Salander and disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist respectively), working together throughout the film to solve the fascinating mystery. Rapace gave the grittiest, most multi-layered performance of the year and if she is denied an Oscar nomination for doing so, then something is most terribly rotten in the state of Denmark (or Sweden, if you prefer). Here, her computer whiz Salander has become the prime suspect in the double murder of two journalists right before an expose of the Swedish sex trade is launched in Blomqvist’s Millennium magazine. Refusing to meet with Blomqvist, she tries her best to avoid being detected and find the murderer(s) herself. In doing so, Rapace is given very little to do — and knowing her range and scope, it just seems to be a terrible waste. She is a loner, an outcast, autonomous, disconnected — too much so. For his part, Blomqvist is absolutely sure of Salander’s innocence and does everything in his power to prove this to everyone, including the police. His faith in and love for her is clear throughout and NyQvist does a good job of conveying this without going overboard.

There are some terrible bad guys here, which make for great villains — and some fascinating discoveries made along the way, some believable and some, unfortunately, too far-fetched. Peter Andersson makes another appearance as the “sadistic pig” Nils Bjurman and he is so effective in this role, truly creating one of cinema’s most vile characters. Yasmine Garbi does admirably as Lisbeth’s lover and woman who unwittingly puts herself in grave danger by taking over her friend’s apartment — and as Alexander Zalachenko, Georgi Staykov under all the heavy make-up is loathsome and harrowing. There is a line in the film that describes Lisbeth as being indestructible — and boy does the story really take that theory to its most extreme — to the point where it is almost too implausible.

However, for all of its faults and setbacks, The Girl Who Played With Fire does deliver in terms of suspense and intrigue. Alfredson manages to keep you on your toes and wonder what the next piece of the jigsaw puzzle will be. At its core, the film is a mystery/thriller and it does provide in that respect. But the ending — what were they thinking with this ending?! I can understand leaving viewers hanging a bit, but this was far too abrupt and left you more frustrated than anything else.

Now it may be unfair to compare a sequel to its original, but that’s part of the bargain — and the studios and  filmmakers are well aware of this. It is almost impossible to critique a sequel without some comparison to its original, especially when its the second film of an immensely popular trilogy with all three films released in the span of under a year (and I should mention that those who have not seen the first chapter, will be at a complete loss if they go into this second film blind). The upside here is that it provides a more modest level of expectation for the third film, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (also directed by Alfredson). Where the first film tidied things up rather soundly (though it sacrificed an utterly brilliant climax to do so), this second film leaves a few strings left untied, setting up the third and final installment quite nicely. Let’s hope it delivers in mighty fashion.

Director:    Daniel Alfredson
Year:          2010

To view the trailer for The Girl Who Played With Fire, click here.


16 Responses to Peter Eramo Reviews: The Girl Who Played With Fire (** ½)

  1. Nora says:

    Peter, love your write up. I was so disappointed in this movie, and I had no idea it was a different director. Makes a lot of sense now… This movie played out, for me, more like a bad crime drama on TV!! The rich characters from “Tattoo” became one dimensional for me. Also, as I read the book, I disliked this movie even more because of how much they ripped it apart. The Blomqvist/Lisbeth love story was lost (yup, love story) and they left out such a key clue to her character’s past. Of course sequels are tough, and I can cut it some slack because it is part of a trilogy and this won’t stop me from seeing the third movie. “Tattoo” remains my favorite movie of this year as well. But boy… this was rough to watch.

    • Joel Burman says:

      You don’t know how right you are. The two sequels were actually intended as a mini series for TV to begin with but with the enourmous success of the first film they decided to edit down two versions for cinema release. They have finally been released as miniseries in Sweden on DVD.

      I haven’t seen the sequels myself but thats mostly because I found the their books was really bad comparing to the first one. So the main problem is the source material but I totally agree with you that the type of ending is way to much of a cliffhanger and they should have tried to change it up a bit.

      • Really??? Is that why?! I am so glad to learn about this so thanks so much for the info Joel. I had no idea. This was nothing compared to a very brilliant first film. Wonder what the DVD series looks like….Thanks for the heads up, man!

        • Joel Burman says:

          You’re welcome! Look at me as your “Inside Man” on Stieg Larsson.

          I’m not surprised that they haven’t mentioned the difference in production value since it would very much be treated as a lowbudget counterpart.

          • You’re my Swedish insider! Is this comparable to what they used to do with Bergman’s mini-series (Fanny, Scenes/Marriage, et al)?

            • Joel Burman says:

              Kind of and not at all.

              Fanny and Alexander was shot very high budget (all resources in Sweden was on that film for some time), It was always supposed to be a “long” feature for cinema.
              Later on it started a Swedish trend were we tend to do “mini series” of successful features. So now its planned that way (ARN, and the Stieg Larsson films are modern examples of that)

              Scenes from a marriage was produced for TV completely and I think it has always been relesed as such (6 episodes I believe). Have you seen it in some other shape?

              • Thank you for the explanation, Joel. Well, I have the 6 episodes of Scenes…but in the US, it was released as a 3-hour flick. When you rent it, you get the 3-hour version. Have to buy the Criterion to have your choice of the full 6 hours or edited 3-hour. This explains a lot…..Thank you!!!!

                • Joel Burman says:

                  Seen Saraband? The last “non stage” production of his (primarily a 2 hour long tv production), rally pretentious and crappy sequel to scenes from a marriage.

                  • No way!!! I am biased because I admire him more than you. Didn’t touch the original, but still thought it a solid 3-star film. I thought it was a worthy follow-up of this extraordinary couple.

                    • Joel Burman says:

                      I really didin’t like how he made the out of marriage son played by Börje Ahlstedt such a counterpart of the story. Hell was he even mentioned in the first one?

      • Nora says:

        I KNEW IT!!!!!!! This is what I’ve been saying, it felt like a bad TV crime drama. Wow. Makes a lot of sense….

  2. rtm says:

    I’ve been reading The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo and I almost said yet another review?? I had no idea that movie has a sequel, but this isn’t my cup of tea that’s why it’s not on my radar. I see what you mean about taking a foreign film and Americanize it, they just did that with the British comedy Death at a Funeral. What a shame!

  3. Aaron Weiss says:

    I didn’t read your whole review to keep myself fresh, but it is disheartening to know that the sequel may not reach the level as the original (who-duh-thought?). It really could have gone either way after the original. I think I’ll be more disappointed with the American remake, but if Fincher has enough momentum after The Social Network, it might not be too bad.

    • I have zero faith in the American version. Fincher is a fine filmmaker, but just the fact that they have to take from the Swedish film bothers me (much like “Dinner with Schmucks” and others take from other countries). I am hoping that the 3rd film is a good one. I wonder why Oplev didn’t do the 2nd and 3rd films.

      • Joel Burman says:

        Oplev didin’t do the sequels because they were produced for tv with a smaller budget and less production value.

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