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Movie Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire

By James Beale
October 17, 2010

Film adaptations of novels are always difficult because a simplified plot is the only thing that can really transfer easily. Everything else, including the language, syntax and character development is usually lost.

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" falls into this trap as usual. It's the second installment in a trilogy that was originally planned as a 10-book series before novelist Stieg Larsson died in 2004, and it certainly feels like part two out of 10.

The Swedish film doesn't require knowledge of the first film to be enjoyable, although it would help, particularly in the first 15 minutes where a huge fleet of characters are introduced at once. This isn't a huge problem because most of these characters disappear midway through the film and have no real importance; a side effect of dropping plot threads in the book while keeping the characters.

The early scenes do very little and drag the film down to a halt; only 40 minutes in do the motivations of the main characters become clear. Lisbeth Salander, the title character, is on the run after being accused of a string of murders. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist believes she is innocent, as they both delve into Lisbeth's dark past.

Salander, played by Noomi Rapace, is the main draw here. She attempts to snoop while also having moments of intense passion, which is an interesting dynamic. Perhaps the best part of the film is a love scene, which is the one moment in the film where Salander seems unable to find a way out.

Unfortunately, her partner musters no such enthusiasm. Blomkvist, played by Michael Nyqvist, investigates like a cop who simply wants to get home. There is little excitement in his portrayal of a muckraker, which ultimately slows the film.

Most of the characters constantly say what they think, or they openly tell what Salander and Blomkvist need to know. This is another problem in translation, as long passages of exposition are commonplace for books, but don't work well in thriller films.

Still, the second half shifts into gear following a motorcycle ride.The remaining scenes are action-thriller sequences that are genuinely intriguing. The resolution doesn't add up in multiple ways (why does no one call the police in films like these), but it's a fun ride to get there.

Still, most of the writing, acting and filming feels middling. The best second entries in a series of books share new insights concerning character and trudge toward an ending, while simultaneously creating a complete arc of its own.

Nothing feels quite complete here; some editing would've done wonders to cut down on the film's 129 minute running time.

No one calls Larsson's novels' great literature, and no one will call this a great film. But it's pulpy and interesting, and that's good enough sometimes.

2.5/4 stars

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" is playing at the Lyric from Oct. 16 to Oct. 20.