Sadism, Romance, Revenge
by Rick Levin
The plot thickens to Dostoyevskian proportions in director Daniel Alfredson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire (Music Box Films, R, ), the much-anticipated sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, both films based on the wildly popular trilogy by the late Swedish journalist-turned-mystery writer Stieg Larsson. But whereas the first film, gloomily directed by Niels Arden Oplev, turned the screws on suspense inside a dark, murky dungeon of human evil, the sequel — despite scenes of brutality, rape and disgusting Oedipal/Elektra confusion — somehow brightens things up with the Northern Lights of Hollywood genre convention. Back are Lisbeth Salandar (Noomi Rapace), the titular heroine with the unbelievably messed-up past, and her unlikely cohort in ugly-crime solving, the journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist).
The film is faithful to the movement of the novel, and director Alfredson does an admirable job of tightening the thick and unwieldy story to just over two hours; that said, anyone unfamiliar with the first film (or the books) will need Cliff Notes and a flow chart to even begin to grasp what exactly is going on. Salander and Blomkvist, who don’t actually reunite in person until the final scenes, are on the trail of Russians trafficking in prostitution, though the case reaches back into the Tattooed Girl’s horrendous past of filial betrayal and sexual violence. Didn’t get enough of Salander’s utterly grotesque guardian in the first movie? Well, he’s back, as is a cringe-worthy video snippet of his sadistic rape.
The cinematography is artless but serviceable, the acting is solid and the pace is, for the most part, brisk enough — and interspersed with enough icky moments — to engage your attention. Morbid attention, yes, but attention nonetheless. The problem is that The Girl Who Played with Fire, and therefore the franchise itself, is haunted by the ass-kicking ghost of Angelina Jolie, with Salander now running the risk of becoming one more rah-rah angel of vengeance. Of course, if anyone has cause for righteous retribution, it’s her. But gone is the taciturn, almost biological fury that compelled her actions in the first film; now she’s starting to enjoy herself a bit. In a sequence where she rides away on the chopper she’s taken from a biker she’s kicked the shit out of, you just wait for the subtle, reflective grin to half-moon her lips. And then it comes.
The Girl Who Played With Fire opens Friday, Aug. 20, at the Bijou.