The Girl Who Played With Fire

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Reviewer:James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***

You want more of hacker Lisbeth Salander? Judging by the USA box-office take from the first film in this continuing series -- approaching $12 million, making it by far the most successful foreign-language film of the year -- you do, even if it, too, lacks a certain something.

The Girl Who Played With Fire, number two in the trilogy of adaptations based on Stieg Larrson's best-selling books, has a different director from that of its predecessor, and the difference, while immediately apparent, is not necessarily for the worse. Fire director Daniel Alfredson has worked more in Swedish television (and the screenplay this time is by Swedish TV writer Jonas Frykberg), and this shows. Fire looks, sounds (except for the Swedish, of course) and feels like something that you might stumble upon while surfing cable television and -- if that stumble occurred at the show's beginning -- that you would watch, entranced by its byzantine plot and fine acting, right through to the end.

In fact, I enjoyed Fire a bit more than Tattoo, if only because it is finally less florid (don't worry: it's florid enough, but no serial killers or Neo-Nazis in the closet) and more legitimately down-and-dirty. It remains, as is Tattoo, mystery-moviemaking-by-the-numbers -- as practically every mainstream hit of this sort must be. There are plenty of coincidences and last-minute "saves." Fire is shorter, too: only 129 minutes to Tattoo's unwieldy 152.

That said, there's not a whole lot more than needs detailing without spoiling things. We continue to learn of Lisbeth's history from this film, and it's as grim as you'd imagine. (You don't grow up to be a character like this without a closet full of ugly skeletons.) Noomi Rapace once again plays Lisbeth, and she's even more pivotal to this film's success because co-star Michael Nyqvist is less of a presence, and so their relationship appears to be on hold. Lena Endre, Yasmine Garbi and Peter Andersson (as the indelibly nasty Nils Bjurman) are on hand for an encore, now joined by Scandinavian stalwart Per Oscarsson (Hunger) -- who, via his thoughtful, quiet appearance, rolls out a ton of exposition. The most memorable cast member, though, may be the beefy, burly blond, played by Micke Spreitz, whose identity and character gimmick both prove interesting.

Whatever critics say, fans of the book will still find it worth seeing, though they may be somewhat disappointed at this less-glossy follow-up: shorter, grittier, and less cinematic (with an aspect ratio of only 1.85: 1, as opposed to Dragon's widescreen 2.35: 1). But since it's Lisbeth they love, they'll hang on -- and probably beg for more. (Which they'll get: The third part of the trilogy just opened in theaters.)

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