Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Georgi Staykov, Micke Spreitz
The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second film in the hugely popular Millennium series from Swedish author Stieg Larsson. The novels explore the dark underbelly of Swedish society, and deal with murder, corruption and conspiracy that dates back decades. Although Larsson died before their publication, they have become some of the most popular novels of the 21st century, with some 40 million copies in print. Like its acclaimed predecessor The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire ventures into some dark and disturbing territory.
Director Daniel Alfredson (brother of Let The Right One In director Thomas Alfredson) and his co-writer Jonas Frykberg have taken out much of the political subtext from the book, and reshaped it into a gripping and often violent and nasty thriller. At the centre of the intrigue again are the enigmatic security analyst and cyber-punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist).
Having returned to Stockholm, Lisbeth becomes the prime suspect in the brutal murder of her abusive parole officer. She is also suspected of being involved in the murder of a young journalist, who was writing an expose of the sex trade involving some highly placed politicians. Although he hasn’t seen her in over a year, Blomkvist believes in her innocence and works alongside the police to prove it.
The Girl Who Played With Fire concentrates on the fascinating back story for Salander’s character, and is a much more harrowing and personal journey for her. Her search for the truth follows a complex trail that eventually leads back into her past, and she has to face her troubled childhood and the emotional scars which she carries. It also brings her into conflict with her father (Georgi Staykov), whom she has believed to be dead. There is also the fearsome presence of Micke Spreitz, superbly cast and a menacing, blonde, giant, remorseless killer incapable of feeling pain, who is akin to the stereotypical villainous henchmen familiar to Bond movies.
Alfredson’s muscular direction ramps up the suspense, and he also brings a malevolent and nasty edge to the violence, particularly in the climax. However, he also manages to bring some shades of grey to the often bleak world depicted. Once again, the success of the film rests on the uniquely androgynous character of Salander, and Rapace is again excellent. She imbues the troubled character with a fearless strength and surprisingly vulnerable quality. The other major character in the series is the journalist Blomkvist, who plays a more passive role here. Nyqvist’s performance is effective, and his earnest presence is somehow reassuring, and counters Rapace’s steely determination.
The Girl Who Played With Fire may not be quite as compelling or as fresh as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but it is nonetheless still a solid and enjoyable noir-like thriller and will not disappoint the legions of fans. And it effectively sets the scene for The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, the final installment in this trilogy.