The Girl Who Played with Fire (Swedish: Flickan som lekte med elden), 2009.
Directed by Daniel Alfredson.
Starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.
When hacker Lisbeth Sanders (Noomi Rapace) goes on the run after being accused of three murders, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) sets out to track her down and uncover the truth.
If you’ve ever looked over cinema listings, you’ll know that so much depends on a single sentence chosen to sum up a film’s story. One word often does it for some; Comedy. Action. Thriller. These are our genre watchwords, and so often, they’re used to lie to us. How many comedies have you sat through that aren’t comic? How many thrillers that patently did not thrill?
How refreshing then, that The Girl Who Played With Fire lives up to its promise, and perhaps more importantly, lives up to its fierce and fresh predecessor, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
The film re-introduces us to Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the hard-as-nails hacker; she’s clever, small and brutal, with a dark past. The story delves into this past, but it never feels like the usual powerpoint presentation, released into one overlong flashback. Instead Alfredson releases little fragments, one at a time, captivating us in depictions of heartless cruelty and the sinister machinations of those in control of Lisbeth. We’re almost loathe to return periodically to Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) and his journalistic adventures.
We soon warm to Mikael though; he may not have Lisbeth’s calm, unforgiving efficiency or her hundred yard stare, but he is, thankfully, human. He doesn’t succeed in every confrontation like Lisbeth; he’s overweight; he ruffles everyone’s feathers – but we like him. Mikael makes it his task to hunt down corrupt officials and expose them, and amazingly, considering the number of enemies he makes on a daily basis, he’s still alive.
With our two magnetic main characters, we’re set loose in a world of corruption and sex-trafficking, which leads Lisbeth and Mikael to join forces again, this time in the hunt for a mysterious figure known only as Zala. There’s a lot of dangerous and powerful men in their way, and if that wasn’t enough, Dolph Lundgren’s evil twin is doing his level best to murder everyone Lisbeth knows to get at her. It’s no chance remark when Lisbeth’s former guardian Palmgren tells her, “You’re invincible.”
Lisbeth pays a price for her ‘invincibility’. She seems impossible to kill, but for that she’s had to endure unimaginable pain and she’s yet to experience terrible traumas. She comes away from potentially lethal encounters unscathed, but once she’s up against her true intellectual equal, she has nothing left to rely on but her will to survive.
It’s to actress Noomi Rapace’s massive credit that we get a firm sense of this immense self-control. She plays Lisbeth with punkish confidence and a well-timed vulnerability. So often in these films, it seems universally accepted that the standard Grim Look of Vengeance is all a leading actor needs to get through a thriller; yet Rapace’s sly, versatile performance trounces any Best Actress material you care to name.
Perhaps the key to the film’s credibility is the cast. In true spaghetti western style, the supporting actors seem to have been chosen for their weathered, authentic features. These players are not the conventionally attractive, glossy haired screen idols that grace Hollywood’s studios and backlots. They are not beautiful. They are striking, which is far more interesting to watch.
By the same token, the Swedish locations deserve a mention for their fresh, understated beauty. Giving audiences a break from bog standard, over-exposed film locations like LA or New York, Alfredson treats us to brusque, modern Swedish architecture and shadowy, menacing forests.
David Fincher’s remake of the Millenium series (Dragon Tattoo is currently shooting) has The Social Network’s Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig (James Blond himself) in the leads, which smacks of lazy casting and a basic misunderstanding of what made these films work.
It’s our integral belief in the characters of The Girl Who Played With Fire; their visceral, gripping stories keep us glued to the screen for two twisting, turning, impossibly short hours. The glamourous Mara hasn’t shown an inkling of Lisbeth’s intense air of danger, nor does the taut, muscular Craig quite embody Mikael’s slobbish, relentlessly unsociable charm.
So don’t wait for Fincher’s ‘re-imagining’. Snatch this one up while you can. Subtitles are a small price to pay for such satisfying, genuine thrills.
Simon Moore is a budding screenwriter, passionate about films both current and classic. He has a strong comedy leaning with an inexplicable affection for 80s montages and movies that you can’t quite work out on the first viewing.
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