July 10, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire (07/10/2010)

Lettergrade: B

The Girl Who Played With Fire is based on the second book in Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" series, the first of which (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) was made into a film that hit the States earlier this year. I really liked that first movie. This second one, while still good, packs much less of a punch. My wife has read all three books, and seemed to suggest that her initial reaction to the second film is similar to how she felt about the second book at first, only to feel much more satisfied in hindsight when she got to the third one.

I know nothing of these characters as they exist in novel form, but found them fascinating in the first movie, which was, at its core, an above average detective story that was greatly enhanced by the interesting and complex people who were trying to solve the crime. In this one, vindicated journalist Mikael Blomkvist (which I'm pretty sure is the Swedish word for "blumkin"), is back to work at Millennium, the investigative newpaper he co-runs, when a young reporter comes in with a well-researched article about underage sex trafficking in Sweden that could implicate several high profile politicians, etc. Suddenly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the young reporter and his girlfriend are murdered (along with a bunch of other people), and Blomkvist takes up the story himself in an attempt to solve the crime. Simultaneously, the elusive Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who has been traveling abroad since the events of the last movie, returns to Sweden and finds herself on the run, having been implicated in at least some of those same murders.

I think the first picture benefitted from having no real expectations (other than that it was supposed to be good), and also from the lean, economical filmmaking overseen by director Niels Arden Oplev, who chose to focus on the crime plot first, to let the characters develop and grow from that, and to keep the sweeping crane shots and artistic flourishes minimal. Daniel Alfredson, who took over as director for part 2 (and the forthcoming part 3), is a bit more showy in how he approaches the material, and does not handle it quite as successfully. Foremost, his approach to filming action scenes seems to be to put a long lens on the camera, get to close to the subject, and shake the hell out of it while whatever's supposed to be happening is happening (as evidenced by a lengthy fight scene in a barn mid-way through the movie where I could not tell who was punching who and who, if anyone, was winning).

Both movies are long, but Dragoon Tattoo felt much more succinct than its 2.5 hour running time would have you believe, whereas this one, roughly the same length, feels much slower. Under Alfredson, there are more long, meaningful looks that come off as a bit superflous, and at one point the movie even stops dead in its tracks for a few minutes so Lisbeth can have a ridiculously overblown Cinemax style sex scene with her sometime lover Miriam. I guess the filmmakers felt they had to put in something for disgruntled boyfriends who were dragged to a Swedish movie with subtitles under protest, but I still think the movie might have been better if it had played Lisbeth's sexuality a little more neutral-bordering-on-dispassionate, as the first one did.

As I was saying, however, the "plot" aspects of both these movies seems to be secondary to our main characters, who do the sleuthing. Although I have very positive memories of part 1, it even took me a moment or two remember the general details of the crime they were trying to solve in that one. This picture is a little more dense in its plot dealings, and I found I had trouble keeping track of which ridiculous Swedish names went with what ridiculous Swedish faces. Additionally, as this is one of those part 2s that is designed to lead directly into part 3, I ultimately left the theater feeling a little letdown that certain aspects of the movie didn't seem to pay off (concerns which, my wife tells me, will be addressed later). Nevertheless, it's still a good movie, and I daresay more interesting than any American crime thriller I've seen in recent memory.

My journal entry for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

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