MacGuffin Film Review – The Girl Who Played With Fire

Film Review: Part 2 – The Girl Who Played With Fire

There are many questions that surround Lisbeth Salander.  She has an enormous tattoo of a dragon on her back, but we don’t know how she got it or why.  She has sex with her girlfriend, but it’s not so much an expression of love but rather an act to fulfill a physical need.  She purchases a condo large enough to house a number of families, but she barely fills it with furniture.  Lisbeth’s life is a combination of many eccentricities and curiosities, but perhaps that is what makes her so intriguing as a character.  This pint-sized person has more strength and will power than any other fictional character out there.  Put her in a room filled with thugs and low-lifes, and it would be their well being that I’d be worried about.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009), a thriller from Sweden, is the second in author Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy.”  It continues and expands on the story of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), and her odd yet interesting connection with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist).  The film sees a new director with Daniel Alfredson, but there is a lot of carry over from the first film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009).  If you enjoyed the first movie, then chances are you’ll like this one as well.  The acting is good all around, the cinematography is sharp yet not flashy, and the multiple storylines intertwine together tightly and cohesively.  Although it is not on the same level as the first film, this movie is a worthy entry in to the series.  It is here where Lisbeth Salander truly takes the spotlight in the trilogy.

A year has passed since the events of Dragon, and all appears to be back to normal.  Blomkvist has since been released from prison and has continued his work as an executive journalist at Millennium Magazine.  Lisbeth has spent her time traveling, enjoying the riches she had gained, and in the beginning of the film we find her relaxing down in the Caribbean.  It’s interesting that, throughout the trilogy, these two people spend much of their time apart from each other, going through their own story arcs, and yet each time they find their paths eventually crossing at one point.  Here, Lisbeth is lured back to Sweden on two different fronts: the first to keep her previous guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) in check, and the second regarding her curiosity with Mikael’s latest story.  The newest member of the Millennium team, Dag Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin), proposes a case of prostitution to be published, with many Swedish police officers, lawyers, and political leaders being involved.  Mikael, along with the others, know just how dangerous releasing this information could be, but none of them realize the extent of their situation until Mikael discovers both Dag’s and Dag’s girlfriend’s bodies, shot dead in their apartment.

Both Mikael and Lisbeth jump on the case to discover the culprit behind these murders, with Lisbeth knowing of it from hacking into Mikael’s personal computer.  Lisbeth has a special interest here, as her own experiences has a shown a personal attachment with cases dealing with abuse toward women.  But when a person close to Lisbeth turns up murdered as well, and the gun used in all three was the same and has Lisbeth’s fingerprints all over it, all eyes turn to the gothic girl with the troubled past.  She makes quite the easy target for authorities: her history of violence and trouble making coupled with her unabashed and unusual look make for an open and shut case for those not looking close enough.  From there, both Mikael and Lisbeth work diligently to prove Lisbeth’s innocence and expose those that have framed her, ending with a bloody and violent climax.

This, along with the third film in the trilogy, brings Lisbeth out as the main focus of the story.  With this installment, we learn a little more about Lisbeth’s troubled past and a glimpse as to why she builds these invisible walls around her.  In the first movie, we saw a young Lisbeth dousing a man in a car with gasoline and lighting him on fire.  Here, we learn who that person was and why she was forced to do something like that.  The film introduces Lisbeth’s abusive father, what he did to her mother, and what she had to do to escape that horrible household.  We get a further look at her time in a mental facility, bounded and restrained against her wishes, and how she came to be under the care of her cruel foster guardian from the first movie.  But at the same time, not everything we learn about Lisbeth is bad.  Her one time girlfriend Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) is introduced as one of the few people that have shown any form of kindness to her.  One of Lisbeth’s previous guardians, Holger Palmgren (Per Oscarsson), treated her with respect and care prior to his stroke, and the scene the two share together is one of the better scenes of the movie.  Paolo Roberto (Paolo Roberto) is her friend and boxing instructor, and goes above and beyond what he needs to do to help her, even going so far as fighting a blond monster of a man, Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz).  And then, of course, there’s Mikael Blomkvist himself, who is so convinced of her innocence that we begin to assume that his feelings are based more on emotion than journalist logic.

Like the first film, this story works as a taut and compelling procedural.  Alfredson was able to take the reigns from the previous director and continue the trilogy without much misstep.  There a large number of characters and speaking parts that inhabit the film’s running time, but we are able to distinguish each character from one another and know exactly how they fit within the greater scheme of the plot.  The twists and turns are numerous and come frequently, and although it doesn’t quite hold together as well as the first film did with its story, by the end we know who the bad guys are, what is at stake, and what should happen if our heroes were to fail.  Mikael Blomkvist emerges as a more prominent character here, and his motivations become just as curious as Lisbeth’s.  Why does he care so much for her?  Does he love her?  In the movie we see him becoming romantically involved with one of his colleagues at Millennium, but he works to prove Lisbeth’s innocence as if he was the one being suspected of murder.  Although he doesn’t say it out loud, there is a kind of connection he has with her, despite spending most of the film apart.

If there is one major criticism to have with The Girl Who Played With Fire, is that it is simply the second part of a whole.  All of the characters return from the first film, and although you wouldn’t be lost, you’d have a much more rewarding experience here if you had seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  On the flip side, there are many questions and loose ends that aren’t completely taken care of, and the story will not feel complete unless you watch the final installment of trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.  But you can’t knock it for being a continuation of a series; this is a finely made, suspenseful thriller, a must see.

Final Grade: B+

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