Sweden is beating the U.S. in the film versions of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novels known as the “Millennium trilogy” — “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”
“Tattoo” was released in Sweden first in 2009, then had a limited release throughout America earlier this year (it’s now available on DVD), gaining rave reviews for its dark, thickly plotted mystery about a man enlisting the help of a computer hacker to find a woman who had been missing for 40 years.
A hotly anticipated American version of “Tattoo” is in the works, which many are assuming will be a much tamer take of the sometimes brutal story, even though it’s set to be directed by the risk-taking David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Zodiac,” the upcoming “The Social Network”).
Nevertheless, Sweden has already released the film version of the second book, “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and its limited American run brings it to Wichita today.
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First off, it’s not nearly as pulse pounding nor as enthralling as the first film. But it’s still an engaging mystery, and it’s a treat to revisit the characters we rooted for in the first installment.
You’d certainly be better off having seen the first film going in, because then you’d understand the experience that binds the characters together. For were it not for the overly pierced, ruthlessly damaged (but ultra-cool) Lisbeth Salander (the beautifully brooding and feral Noomi Rapace), journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) would not be alive.
At the beginning of “Played With Fire,” we find Lisbeth traveling the world, more than a year since the conclusion of events in “Tattoo.”
Her hair is longer, but she is still the same — a loner who doesn’t trust anyone, especially men. But she has very good reasons for her issues (actually, very, very bad ones). And they are the root of the story.
Revealing too much of the plot would lessen its impact, but Mikael is back working at Millennium magazine, following his controversial time in jail and the freelance job that almost killed him.
A new reporter is hired at the magazine who is about to publish the results of a sex-trafficking sting that will expose many high-profile, powerful figures in their community. Before he can, he and his wife are murdered. And in a seemingly connected event, so is the vile parole officer Lisbeth reported to.
Naturally, Lisbeth is accused of the murders, so she retreats to find the real killer herself, as does Mikael. Both unravel clues on separate-though-tied story lines. It’s Mikael’s loyalty and belief that Lisbeth is innocent that is most touching in his plight (and Nyqvist’s performance is quietly heroic).
Lisbeth, though, is still a stunning character, a dark, fiercely intelligent, woefully wronged heroine intensely embodied by Rapace. Her acting is more with presence than words — she has few actual lines. But she’s electrifying.
Several story points feel like they’re being set up for the final installment, and the mystery unfolds here in an almost methodical, plodding way.
But the final act is the most gripping, and Lisbeth’s survivalist instincts are astonishing, to say the least.
And she would.
“The Girl Who Played With Fire”***(In Swedish with English subtitles)
Rating: R (brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language) Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael NyqvistDirected by: Daniel AlfredsonShowing at: Warren Theatre (east)