Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy last year and watched both the American and Swedish versions of his first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. For me, it was a weird thing about the books. While I liked all three, my enjoyment went down with each passing book. I loved the first one, but I struggled to get through the second and third. Give me credit though, I'm persistent if nothing else, so here we go with 2009's The Girl Who Played with Fire.
It's been over a year since Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) helped journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) take down a hugely successful Swedish businessman, and she's fallen off the map, traveling the world with her newfound wealth. Lisbeth is now returning to Sweden, purchasing a huge condo where she can live in peace. She hasn't reconnected with anyone from her past, but her name is on the national radar now. A freelancer working for Mikael is preparing an expose about sex trafficking, the women transported into the country and the men behind the business. One night, both the freelancer and his girlfriend are brutally murdered, and the evidence points to none other than Lisbeth herself. Having worked closely with her, Mikael knows there's no way that could be the truth. Something is going on, something dark and hidden away.
While the Larsson books are well-written and solid reads, it's easy to see that doing a film adaptation from one of the novels is a daunting task. The first book -- Dragon Tattoo -- is downright simple (and that's saying something) to what comes in the second and third books. There are countless characters, locations, backgrounds, twists, turns and everything in between getting from Point A to Point B. I don't envy getting the novel to the film, director Daniel Alfredson taking the helms here for the second film in the trilogy. It was difficult to follow the books at times because there was so much going on. The films? Well.....
'Dragon Tattoo' clocked in at 152 minutes, and this follow-up is shorter by 24 minutes. Something had to be cut from the novel to the film to make it even remotely feasible, but unfortunately 'Fire' cuts too much. I read the book, and I was confused half the time. The film plays like a cliff note's version of Larsson's novel. But, that's not why we're here. I'll do my best to just judge on its basis as a film alone. Even there though, I can't imagine trying to keep up with everything going on here. When I explain some of the cast later, I'll mention four or five names. If I did more than that, this review would go on for days. Significant cuts were made, and it's still too much and not enough at the same time. We meet characters, but that's it, never really learning much about them or in some cases, who they are. An extended cut was released on DVD with more than 50 minutes added, and I assume it's got to be at least a little better.
Anyways, back to the film as just that, a film. Like its predecessor, it is a well-crafted, unsettling and incredibly cool, visual movie. Based in Sweden, it has a snowy, washed out and cold look to it. Issues I had with the story and characters aside, it is a solid thriller. Composer Jacob Groth returns to handle the musical score, his music here more eerie, appropriate and memorable than I remembered in the first one. On a visual basis alone, it is a memorable movie. The twists and turns do keep us guessing so even when you're confused, it's still in an entertaining, confusing sort of way.
The best part though here in 'Fire' is the continuing development of the Lisbeth Salander character. Even when I struggled through the novels, I continued on because I was fascinated by the Lisbeth and Mikael characters. There's more going on here with Lisbeth's personal background than you could ever imagine. We meet someone from her past, a mysterious man named Zala (Georgi Staykov), who damaged her in ways you'd never expect. With her walls up again and general refusal to never let anyone get close to her, we see more about her as we learn about her years growing up. Playing her journalistic counterpart, Nyqvist isn't given as much to do here unfortunately other than look worried and follow the clues to Lisbeth and her own wandering investigation. What's key though is that we've gotten to know the characters pretty well thanks to the first novel, and even when the script struggles to spell things out, we hopefully go along for the ride.
I lied. I'm not going to go into anymore depth about the supporting cast. By my count, there's 16 others characters that I'd need to give some attention. Some are only around for a scene or two, others far more than that. By explaining who most of them are, I'd be ruining a lot of plot twists that offer a pretty decent surprise with less knowledge going in. I'll wrap this up. It's a good thriller that has some serious flaws. Some of that comes from having read the books, but even just judging it as a film, it's got those issues. It switches things up and does build to momentum in the second half. The cliffhanger is solid, hopefully leading right into the third film. Review to come at some point so stay tuned.
The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009): ** 1/2 /****