An adaptation of the second volume in Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millennium’ Trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire was, alongside the third instalment in the series, originally filmed for Swedish television. Ditching the original film’s director, Niels Arden Oplev, it’s TV origins are apparent from the start. Where Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was shot in widescreen and on 35mm film, it’s two sequels are in the more TV appropriate 1.85:1 ratio and both shot on digital. Both pictures suffer as a result, and whilst the original instalment (episode?) was no masterpiece, it certainly had much more right to be on the big screen that it’s ugly, uncinematic sequel, which plays like a poor episode of Prime Suspect, albeit with more leather and piercings.
It makes little consideration for those approaching the series cold, and if you’ve not read the novels then it’s a good idea to watch the superior Dragon Tattoo first, if only to grasp the relationship between the two protagonists. Even so, this is a very talky film and requires a concentrated reading of the subtitles. Names are thrown up and disappear constantly, and not having read any of the novels myself, I found myself working overtime to follow exactly who did what to whom and how they all connect.
Is it worth the effort? Not really. It’s vastly inferior to this month’s Argentinian release The Secret Of Their Eyes, which won this year’s foreign language Oscar, and treads similar ground to this film – corruption within the upper echelons of power, sadistic power plays, guilt/redemption and journalistic investigation.
What all three films in the series do have, however, is a great central performance by Noomi Rapace as the titular girl. Lisbeth Salander is quite a creation, a cyber-punk bisexual computer hacker with an appetite for feminist vengeance that could teach Charles Bronson a thing or two (about vengeance I mean, I’m unaware of his views on feminism!). She’s the antithesis of the other lead character, dull journalist Michael Blomkvist, as played by Michael Nyqvist.
Whilst much was made of Salander’s feminist credentials in the first film, they’re somewhat undermined here by the inclusion of a gratuitous lesbian sex scene at the start. Coming across as some kind of male wish-fulfilment fantasy, it’s a strange choice by director Daniel Alfredson, and does nothing to serve either the narrative and more importantly Salander’s character, and merely fetishes her further – surely not Larsson’s intention?
At times just silly - the Zala character in particular, with his childhood analgesia meaning he can feel no pain, is a baddie even Ian Fleming would have scoffed at – the biggest problem with The Girl Who Played With Fire is it’s almost total disregard for dramatic momentum. It may be the shortest film in the trilogy, but it certainly feels the longest. It’s as though occasionally Alfredson remembers he’s supposed to be directing a thriller and drags us away from a computer screen/filing cabinet to throw us into a one minute car chase, before we’re right back to looking up clues on google.
There’s an extended version of all three films that was re-cut for Swedish television, which presumably includes more googling and talking, but in it’s current form The Girl Who Played With Fire cuts it neither as thriller or even, ultimately, as cinema.