The Girl Who Played With Fire

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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The Girl Who Played with Fire

Directed by: Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Annika Hallin, Per Oscarrson

Screenplay by: Jonas Fryberg, based on the book by Stieg Larsson
Run Time: 129 minutes
In Swedish with English subtitles

MPAA Rating: Rated R

Based on the thrilling second novel in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire (Played with Fire) begins where the haunting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ended (Dragon Tattoo).

In the riveting and compelling The Girl Who Played with Fire, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the vengeful asocial but indomitable punk hacker, and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) the investigative journalist, recreate the roles they played in the first film; but Played with Fire is Lisbeth’s story, with Mikael in the supporting role. That’s all to the good, since Lisbeth, who is based on Larsson’s concept of a 21st century Pippi Longstocking, is far the more enthralling character.

To understand Played with Fire, it helps to have seen or read Dragon Tattoo. For those who haven’t, here’s a recap. In Dragon Tattoo, we learn that Lisbeth has had a violent past. She required inpatient psychiatric treatment after setting her brutal father on fire. Until Lisbeth reaches twenty-five, she is required to have a court appointed guardian. With only one year to go, her elderly legal protector retires. Her newly appointed guardian, Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) sexually assaults her, but Lisbeth takes grisly vengeance on him.

As Played with Fire begins, Lisbeth is in the Cayman Islands, having completed her first adventure with Mikael, when she learns that a sex trafficking exposé implicating upper echelon Swedish men is about to be published in Mikael’s magazine. Lisbeth returns to Stockholm, but suddenly becomes the chief suspect in a triple murder connected to the trafficking exposé. Lisbeth’s abusive guardian is implicated in the trafficking. He is desperate to retrieve a video that Lisbeth had made  to document his sexual assault on her.

Lisbeth vanishes to avoid capture by the tenacious, misguided and stubborn police inspector Jan Bublanski (Johan Kylen). Although Lisbeth is engaged in her own search for truth, Mikael, separately, investigates on her behalf.

Two new characters, crime mastermind and former Soviet spy Alexander “Zala” Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) and his menacing son, Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), become involved in silencing Lisbeth.

As these desperate and ruthless men chase Lisbeth, Mikael rushes to save her. There is a shocking revelation at the end of the film, perhaps setting the stage for the third in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

Director Daniel Alfredson keeps the pace fast, turning Played with Fire into a tense thriller, whereas Niels Arden Oplev directed Dragon Tattoo with a slower tempo and more Swedish atmosphere.

Noomi Rapace owns the role of Lisbeth Salander; she is perfect in this difficult role. As director Daniel Alfredson commented, Rapace succeeds in making Lisbeth authentic and believable, at once super human and at the same time, deeply human.

On the other hand, Mikael’s persona is less developed, although Michael Nyqvist plays his role with sensitivity. Yes, Mikael is based on author Stieg Larsson, but Mikael’s character and background remain unclear. He is a character around which the plot swirls, but not the character with whom we are involved.

Stieg Larsson, a lover of American and English mysteries, planned to write ten mystery novels based on detailed synopses he had written. Ownership of those synopses and the royalties from Larsson’s oeuvre are now the subject of dispute.

Larsson died without a will. Since he and Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of 32 years, were not married and had no children, under Swedish law, his estate should go to his father and brother. What would feminist Larsson have thought about that?

The Girl Who Played with Fire combines a fascinating character study with thrills and chills. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
©Emily S. Mendel 2010   All Rights Reserved

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