Although I read all three of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” novels back in 2010 and saw the Swedish film adaptation of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” on TV sometime in 2012, I’ve only finally got round to seeing the second film this year when I received a really cool DVD boxset of the extended versions of all three films/ mini series as a gift from my parents (thanks again 🙂 )
Before I go any further, I should probably point out that all three films have to be watched in order. Although the first one (“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”) works as a stand-alone story, the second and third films are two halves of a longer story. So, make sure that you’ve seen “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (or have read the original novel) before you see this film.
“The Girl Who Played With Fire” takes place some time after the events of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. Lisbeth Salander has decided to return to Sweden after spending some time hiding out in the Cayman Islands. Mikael Blomkvist is still working for Millennium magazine and has just hired two young journalists who have been investigating a human trafficking ring and want Millennium’s help in exposing both the traffickers and their clients.
However, when the two journalists (along with the nefarious lawyer, Bjurman, from the previous film) are murdered, Lisbeth is accused of the crime and has to go into hiding. With the police hunting for her, she and Blomkvist try to prove her innocence and investigate the crime…
If I remember rightly, each book in Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy is actually in a very slightly different genre from the others. “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is a detective story, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” is more of a thriller and “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” is mostly a legal thriller/courtroom drama.
As a thriller, this film/ mini series works fairly well. Yes, it’s slightly on the slower-paced side but, it was still compelling enough for me to watch both episodes within the space of a single Saturday. And this is despite the fact that I already knew all of the major plot details from reading the book six years ago.
In addition to this, the slightly slower pace actually gives the film/ mini series a much more naturalistic and “realistic” feel too.
Although the pacing is helped by the format (eg: it is split into two shorter 90-minute episodes), the slightly slower pace also helps to present the film’s moments of violent drama as being especially shocking or extraordinary. Yes, this is a fairly violent film, but the violence comes across as slightly more shocking than in the average Hollywood movie, because it is shown more infrequently and in a much less “glamourous” way than in many thriller movies.
For example, some of Lisbeth’s more morally-ambiguous actions in several scenes of the film are shown to be a response to equally (or more) sadistic actions by the characters she is threatening or attacking. It is left up to the viewer to come to their own judgement about whether this shows that violence just breeds violence, or whether Lisbeth’s actions were justified, or whether she’s only marginally less evil than the villains.
As with the original novel, don’t go into this film expecting it to be a feel-good thriller. This film covers some pretty heavy subject matter and it also contains it’s fair share of strong opinions too. Sometimes, these opinions come across in a cartoonishly exaggerated way (eg: one of the unsympathetic characters is a detective who takes literally every opportunity to make narrow-minded comments), but for the most part, the film’s politics are relatively subtle and nuanced.
But, despite the film’s heavy subject matter, it wasn’t really as depressing as I had expected it to be. Although it certainly isn’t a cheerful film, the compelling plot and excellent acting help to make sure that the film is compelling, rather than just depressing.
One cool thing about this film is probably the ominously dramatic animated title sequence for each episode. This consists of a series of animated digital oil paintings that depict various scenes from the first and second films. Seriously, it made me wish that they’d turned the novels into comics – since each picture wouldn’t look out of place in a graphic novel. Although the title sequence contains a few spoilers, you’ll probably only recognise them as spoilers if you’ve already read the books beforehand.
The film/ mini series can be watched in either a dubbed English version or in Swedish (with English subtitles). Not really being a fan of dubbing, I chose the latter (since, if the film is made in Sweden and set in Sweden, it’d be kind of strange to hear the characters speaking English). Even so, the writing in this film was fairly good. Most of the dialogue comes across as understated and realistic – and the writing is pretty standard serious crime/mystery drama kind of stuff.
As for the acting, it’s fairly good. The best performance is, by far, Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander who portrays the character in a fairly similar way to how she appears in the books (eg: a badass cyberpunk anti-hero, who is also a fairly complex character). Not only that, the storyline of this film – and the original novel – makes her the main character in a way that she wasn’t in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”.
The other central character, Mikael Blomkvist, is played by Michael Nyquist and, in contrast to Lisbeth, he’s a fairly “realistic” character. He doesn’t really get into fights, he usually stays vaguely within the law whilst investigating and he’s a journalist rather than an action hero.
Although these two characters don’t really interact with each other directly for most of the film (since Lisbeth is in hiding and/or on the run), the contrast between them is one of the things that makes this film really interesting.
All in all, I really liked this film. It’s fairly close to what I can remember of the book and – despite it’s length – it’s a fairly compelling piece of drama.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get four.