Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 7:06 pm 
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The Girl who keeps bouncing back

Published on Cinescene.

It's not giving away too much to say straight off that the wiry, secretive, and strangely charismatic dragon-tattooed heroine of the Swedish action-mystery series is much battered but still breathing when this second installment ends. She has to survive for the third installment. Like the first film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo , shown in the US in Swedish with (mostly legible) English subtitles earlier this year, but with a new director, The Girl Who Played with Fire is a workmanlike, not great, movie. Yes, it's the same "Girl," and the title refers to an episode in her past life we already know about, but see more fully enacted this time. This one reads very much like several episodes of "Law and Order" or "Prime Suspect." This time we're spared a laborious introduction and plunge right in. This is leaner, meaner storytelling, with less gruesome cruelties but more direct and traditional physical action -- fires, escapes, chases.

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), AKA the "Girl," is the creation of Stieg Larsson, a researcher into sexual violence against women who turned his special knowledge into three bestselling novels and then prematurely died. Lisbeth is a young woman who not only witnessed the repeated abuse of her own mother, but was later repeatedly raped and tortured herself. These hardships have only tempered her steel will, strengthened her and endowed her with a superhuman desire to wreck vengeance (extra-legal if need be) and bring justice in a world where others are abused as she was. She is not only a computer hacking whiz and ace investigator but a chain-smoker, sexual athlete, and all-around mean girl to tangle with in a fight. Undoubtedly the focus and peculiarity of Noomi Rapace, an intense performer in the lead role, is a major factor in the success and unique flavor of this movie series. Since American remakes are planned the obvious question arises: who on earth can follow Ms. Rapace's act? And will anyone else be able to make the character of Lisbeth as convincing?

When Lisbeth is tracking down some records at a remote house two mean, armed bikers approach, dead set on eliminating her, and we know full well she'll take them down in a couple of minutes; the fun is just in watching how. There has never been quite this kind of punk, chain-smoking, oft-disguised underdog -- and lesbian! -- before. The more you see of her the more you like her, respect her, and wish she was on your team.

Not as much introductory exposition is provided this time; knowledge of the first book or movie is perhaps assumed, though not absolutely necessary; indeed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's lengthy opening section wasn't even necessary for the first episode, but it helps to know the first part of the trilogy. Again there is an investigation being carried out by stringers for the magazine Millennium. A woman is finishing her doctoral thesis about sex traffickers, and her boyfriend is following up. Highly placed officials turn out to have been customers. There are murders. Lisbeth's cohort and ally Mikael Blomquist (Michael Nyqvist) gets involved, events are in the news, and Mikael and Lisbeth are one step ahead of the police: the Tattooed Girl's a suspect. Her occasional lesbian lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) gets involved in the revenge of the bad guys along with a professional boxer (Paolo Roberto), who gets knocked silly by a blond hulk called Niedermann (Mikael Spreitz) -- a heavy who somehow doesn't seem quite as terrifying to look at as the story wants to make him: writer Stieg Larsson isn't as successful with his villains as he is with their victims and avengers. Lisbeth's tormentor and legal guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), whom she punished so severely in the first film, turns up again here, for a while. Again there are flashbacks to Lisbeth's traumatic past. She's one of those heroes whose back-story needs constant freshening up.

As all this unfolded, and the several plot lines were neatly tied up, I watched entertained but not overwhelmed. This is workmanlike stuff, nothing more. Events sometimes feel rushed. One misses the atmosphere of noir or the suspense and cliffhangers of an actual miniseries. The novelty is having this kind of stuff coming from the nation of very different sorts of cinema, of Bergman's masterful gloom, Roy Andersson's tart black humor, Jan Troell's stoical epics, or, most recently, Tomas Alfredson's unforgettably downbeat little vampire movie Let the Right One In, itself destined for a Hollywood version unlikely to match the original. I've heard it said that in Sweden when the novels came out you were considered barely a citizen if you didn't read them; at the same time some made it a point of honor not to. Hence the excitement surrounding what has turned into a series of international bestsellers (with the aforementioned and inevitable Hollywood remakes) -- an excitement partly due to the arrival of an unaccustomed kind of sensationalism into a small, depressed country. Such stories are less unusual in England, and that's why we can think of a number of British television series that come pretty close to these Swedish versions. These days crime-mystery fans have an ever-heightening taste for the dark and scary, hence the appeal of the focus here on sexual violence and misogyny. Unlikely that the series would have taken off as it has if the writer Stieg Larsson hadn't come up with his abused, determined young female protagonist. If only she'd been rewarded for her originality with better films in which to do her thing.

The Girl Who Played with Fire
opened in some theaters July 9, 2010. Its predecessor The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opened in March and has been the biggest grossing limited release so far this year.

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