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Girl Who Played With Fire, The

(Flickan som lekte med elden)
[img_assist|nid=1311|title=I guess she doesn't like BMWs|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=432|height=639]
dir: Daniel Alfredson

Ahhhh. I like it when they make semi-decent movies out of shitty books. It gives me hope for humanity.

For my money at least, The Girl Who Played With Fire was the best of the three books Stieg Larsson shat out onto an unsuspecting world before he died. By ‘best’ I don’t actually mean that it was a great book. I just mean that out of three terribly written books, the second was the least worst of the trilogy.

Since I haven’t seen the last instalment in this series of flicks yet, I can’t say whether this is the best of the three. I thought the first flick, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did pretty well whittling down a phonebook of empty and stolid prose into a competent enough crime investigation flick, with a compelling central character (Lisbeth Salander, not the journalist Blomkvist). She becomes even more central to proceedings here, as the second story, and indeed the rest of the series becomes the All About Lisbeth show.

It opens with Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) in the Caribbean, lazing away and working on a tan despite clearly, from years lived in the land of the midnightish sun, not possessing a skerrick of melanin throughout her emaciated body. She still bears the tattoos and piercings of her first incarnation, but now she also has a fortune stolen from some tangential business character in the first film.

When she returns to Sweden, after finding out that the sadistic advocate Bjurman (Peter Andersson) is trying to get the tattoo she helpfully gave him removed, she decides to step in and remind him that she’s the one in charge.

This starts a chain of events that results in Salander becoming Sweden’s public enemy number one as she is wanted for several murders, including those of a journalist and his scholar partner writing about the sex trade and human trafficking in Sweden and Europe.

All the while, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a pudgy middle-aged journalist, tries to convince the cops that Salander is innocent, and that there is a darker conspiracy afoot, whilst trying to track down Salander herself.

Because this wouldn’t be enough, they throw in Lisbeth’s lesbian lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi), so that there can be a scene of hot lesbian sex, a giant German guy with white hair who never feels any pain (Micke Spreitz) and some former boxing champ called Paolo Roberto (played by, funnily enough, Paolo Roberto) who gets involved with the crazy goings on.

To say that they’ve pared down the acres and hectares of exposition from the book is an understatement. The makers clearly had two things in mind: leave as much out as they could, and assume that anyone watching has read the books anyway. That works for me, since I have had the singular dishonour of reading all the books, but I fear for the poor viewer of more discriminating tastes who has failed to do their homework.

I guess a lot of it might not make sense, but then it’s not really going to matter anyway. The pleasure, or the point of watching this flick is watching Lisbeth Salander, who seems like one of the Furies from Greek mythology, do her thing. And her thing is a beauty to behold.

That’s not a euphemism for her vagina, in case you’re wondering. Salander is a compelling character because she’s ruthlessly efficient, and because she lacks any of the basic emotions that would stop most people from doing the shit she does. It also helps that, whilst her actions could often be termed sociopathic, her adversaries are truly monstrous motherfuckers.

In reality, ignoring the machinations of the murder investigations, what the flick boils down to is Nothing But The Lisbeth Salander Story and the terrible injustice visited upon her in her youth. It sets up, or at least continues on from the origins intimated in the first book/story, and makes them centre stage. Whereas the source material spent agonising and pointless chapter after agonising and pointless chapter paralleling two main stories: Salander and the Blomkvist stuff at Millennium magazine, and the various stories they were working on, and Blomkvist having sex with every single female character that’s not Salander, in this one they’ve pared it done to the bone, which is to the film’s advantage. None of that other shit was really that convincing.

The conspiracy against Salander, on the other hand, is breathtaking in its magnitude, and reaches absurd heights in the third novel, which links to a broader conspiracy of governmental overreach dating back to the 60s, and some kind of link to the assassination of Prime Minister Olaf Palm back in the day. But here, as Salander does her wacky hacking thing to get information other people ordinarily would never have access to, and Blomkvist follows a more journalistic approach to investigation, it’s leading up not to the solution to the crime, since we know who did what from early on, but to Salander getting revenge on the motherfucker who ruined her life when it was barely begun.

I know I shouldn’t enjoy these movies, because the novels are IKEA-quality crap, but they work far better as movies than they do as books. And I’ve enjoyed these two flicks thus far, because they took the right way to portray Lisbeth, and they found the right actress to play her. Noomi Rapace is no shrinking violet, nor is she an actress dressing down and putting a bit of heavy eyeliner on to look like she’s slumming for the role. She looks like and acts like the almost autistic vicious punk bitch that she is playing.

Though the world has made her thus. The structure of the flick is such that she spends practically no time with any other major characters, which again benefits the character. Whether she’s laying the smackdown on some bikers, or trying to murder the giant and his crippled boss, or trying to frighten Bjurman into complying with her demands, there’s no sense that she’s anything but dangerous, even more dangerous than the scum that oppose her, because she never gives off a sense of being anything but convinced that the course of action she’s reasoned through is the right course of action, even if it involves threatening civilians at gunpoint or shooting them for sport.

The ending, for anyone who hasn’t read the books, and perhaps, even those who have, is a bit hard to take, in terms of Salander becoming harder to kill than a Terminator. If I can accept it in Kill Bill 2 (which I guess was even more fantastical in terms of someone surviving a process they shouldn’t be able to underground), then I guess I can accept it here. For me it works because this harpy, this banshee, would pretty much survive anything you could throw at her if she hadn’t achieved her vengeance yet. Thermonuclear war, tsunami, earthquake, childbirth: you name it, she can surmount it.

It’s also helpful to be reminded that these movies, though they look great, and have about as much of a budget as any flick made in Sweden, I guess, are essentially pared down from six episodes for Swedish television, and as such lack much of the connective tissue that is probably there for those who’ve watched the whole thing.

It’s hard to see how the last flick, being based on the worst book in the trilogy, could be any great shakes, since it’s just stupidly retarded and reads like it might have been written by Stieg Larsson not before his death but after it. Maybe he became some kind of zombie Swede who moaned through a rotting clenched jaw as some unholy force animated him to complete his masterpiece before he could find the peace of the grave finally. Whoever the vile necromancer was who forced him to work this way (I believe they’re called ‘publishers’), thankfully he or she has ceased the spell, and Larsson’s decomposing remains (I believe they’re called ‘books’) can’t hurt us any more.

7 times that sex scene was a bit risqué even for my jaded eyes out of 10

“How do you know Salander is innocent?”
-“Look, I just do.” – good question, bad answer – The Girl Who Played With Fire.