Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Movie Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire ****
Directed by:
Daniel Alfredson.
Written By: Jonas Frykberg based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.
Starring: Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander), Michael Nyqvist (Mikael Blomkvist), Lena Endre (Erika Berger), Sofia Ledarp (Malin Erikson), Peter Andersson (Nils Bjurman), Georgi Staykov (Alexander Zalachenko), Yasmine Garbi (Miriam Wu), Micke Spreitz (Ronald Niederman), Tehilla Blad (Young Lisbeth), Annika Hallin (Annika Giannini), Michalis Koutsogiannakis (Dragan Armanskij), Paolo Roberto (Paolo Roberto), Tanja Lorentzon (Sonja Modig), Per Oscarsson (Holger Palmgren), Anders Ahlbom (Dr. Peter Teleborian), Jacob Ericksson (Christer Malm), Niklas Hjulström (Richard Ekström – Prosecutor), Magnus Krepper (Hans Faste), Reuben Sallmander (Enrico), Ralph Carlsson (Gunnar Björk), Johan Kylén (Inspector Jan Bublanski), Hans Christian Thulin (Dag Svensson), Jennie Silfverhjelm (Mia Bergman).

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy has become one of the literary events of the past decade. Think of it kind of Twilight for adults – not because the books are about vampires, which of course, they are not, but because Larsson has created characters and an intricate storyline that has involved millions of adults across the world. Lisbeth Salander is his greatest creation – an antisocial, bisexual, brilliant computer hacker, with a dark past which explains why she so adamantly hates violence against women. But the other main character - Mikael Blomkvist – is just as important as Salander. He is more normal, more instantly likable, and it’s because of him that we allow ourselves to let Salander into our lives in the first place. The books are all breathless thrillers, but what raises them above the level of most novels in the genre is two things. The first is that they are connected to the larger world – Larsson used his novels to talk about the corrupt, morally bankrupt place Sweden has become in the past few decades. More importantly however, it’s because the characters in the book feel real – they are involved in a thriller plot, but we believe in them and that they would actually find themselves in the position they are in.

They knew what they had in Sweden, and they rushed a trilogy of movies into production to capitalize on the popularity of the novels, before Hollywood could get a hold of them (and they have, with a proposed 2012 release date for the first American film). The films were a huge hit in Sweden, and around Europe last year, and this year, North American audiences have got a chance to see them. The first movie, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo did very well for a foreign language film in the spring, so now we have a chance to see the second movie – The Girl Who Played with Fire, and in my opinion, it’s just as good as the first film.

Once again, the key to the movie working in the performance by Noomi Rapace, who has made Lisbeth Salander her own. When we left her in the last movie, she had just had a huge financial windfall and taken off for parts unknown, while Blomkvist regained his reputation by bringing down his adversary – all this and they had time to catch a serial killer as well in the first movie. But things get complicated once again, when Millenium Magazine decides to publish an expose on the sex trade in Sweden – and name names. When the reporter working on the story, along with his fiancée and Salander’s new, wicked guardian, all turn up dead, Salander is fingered as the prime suspect. Although Blomkvist has had no contact with her for a year, he knows she is innocent, and sets about trying to prove it – while Salander tries in her own way, and her dark past is dredged up for all to see.

This film has a new director – Daniel Alfredson – but you wouldn’t know it. The film moves with the same wicked pace as the first film, adding layer upon layer to the mystery, and making the characters come even more to life. Rapace fits the role of Salander like a glove – and she continues to deliver one of the most fascinating performances of the year. I’m not quite sure how she manages to make a character who rarely speaks so fascinating, but she does. For his part, Michael Nyquist gives Blomkvist some added depth this time around as well. The supporting cast is excellent – from Peter Andersson as the horrid guardian to Georgi Staykov as the evil Russian mobster to Micke Spreitz as a hulking blonde goon and even ledgendary Per Oscarsson as Holger Palmgren, Salander’s beloved former guardian suffering from a stroke. This series has known precisely who to cast at each step of the way.

The series, both the books and the movies, work as well as they do because they concentrate more on the characters then even the twists and turns of the plot. They do not seem like characters in a thriller – doing and saying things simply because the plot requires them to, but rather they feel real. The movie ends in a bloody shootout, and even then it feels natural – as if it was the only way it could end. I’m sure that with the success of the first film, and what is sure to be success with this one as well, that we will see The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by the end of the year. I don’t think that this film is quite as good as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – which surprised me with how good it really was. I wasn’t surprised by the quality of this film – but I loved it just the same. Bring on the third movie – the sooner, the better I say.

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