|$||116.6M||Man of Steel|
|$||20.5M||This Is the End|
|$||11.0M||Now You See Me|
|$||9.5M||Fast & Furious 6|
|As of June 18, 2013|
For those of you unfamiliar with the Stieg Larsson trilogy, the author handed in three manuscripts shortly before his death in 2004. The three novels are (in sequential order) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. In my humble opinion as both a film and a literary critic is that while Dragon Tattoo is one of the best novels written in decades, my favorite and the most exciting is surely the middle episode, The Girl Who Played with Fire. With the recent release of Hornet’s Nest Larsson fans have gone into a frenzy. Once they finish the novel readers will they likely realize two things: 1. the third book is too focused on journalism and back story, and 2. the fact that Larsson is deceased and will never write a fourth book is a great literary tragedy. Characters such as Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist come around only once a decade if that often. They are treasures that should be shared with millions of hearts and minds.
The film The Girl who Played with Fire contains all of the major plotline elements expressed/revealed in the novel it is based on. From my trained eyes (as I am a devoted fan of all things Larsson) the only differences between the film and the novel are omissions. For instance, at the end, our heroic journalist’s involvement in saving Salander’s life is not fully explored. There are no glaring plot changes or character absences (even the misogynist Hans Faste is included) and the actors resemble Larsson’s description of each character. If I had one bone to pick with this picture it is that for a two hour and nine minute movie it seems woefully short when compared with the first production. The novel version (in paperback) I read is over 600 pages long. So much more of the characters’ motivations and hidden emotions could have been explored. However, and rightfully so for casual viewers, the focus is on Blomkvist and Salander (the transition from print to film is never easy).
Although I feel like a spoiler since not every viewer will have read the book by the time they watch this film, it is essential to highlight the major storyline developments. When our story begins the “Wennerstrom Affair” is over, the book exposing Hans Eric Wennerstrom is published. Salander has decided Mikael is too much of a playboy for her emotional health. The journalist extraordinaire is unaware that Lisbeth caught him with another woman and is maintaining her distance from him even in the middle of the harrowing events that will follow. We find out her "guardian" Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) was assigned to her case to collaborate with the sinister psychiatrist Dr. Peter Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom). Both men were caretakers for Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov). Known mostly as a Russian defector whose code name is “Zala”, the man is also Lisbeth’s disfigured father. After mercilessly beating his wife (this caused her lifelong hospitalization), Zala looked to escape, but not before Lisbeth threw a homemade Molotov cocktail his way. This caused permanent damage to Zala’s legs and the burning of his formerly handsome face.
Viewers and novel enthusiasts will not be privy to how far up the Zalachenko gang’s treachery and deception goes until the third novel is well underway. For the purposes of the second film, once it is revealed he is Lisbeth’s father and is connected to the murders of two of Millenium’s journalists working on an international sex-trafficking trade story, Lisbeth decides to finish what she started by exacting her revenge. This proves to be tougher than she had at first thought. A murderer named Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) has gone around town on a virtual killing spree that almost included her lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi). Famous and devilishly handsome international boxer Paolo Roberto (played by himself!) saves her life. Niedermann comes into play throughout the film and his medical condition (congenital analgesia) is well explored in the novel. He feels no pain and no matter how many times he absorbs a blow or sustains a wound. As long as he can physically stand Niedermann continues attacking without realizing the gravity of the situation. This makes him both a dangerous and a nearly invincible killer.
Meanwhile, the police make a connection between Lisbeth Salander and the murders of Bjurman (ordered by Zala to get the bumbling fool out of the way), Dag Svensson and Mia Bergman. For those who are perspicacious, at the beginning of the movie she entered Bjurman’s apartment to warn him against going to a doctor or to the police. At his apartment Lisbeth fondled his gun. This makes her a prime suspect and forces her to go around disguised as a blond. Along the way she obliterates two tough bikers and makes them cry like little babies (easy to do when tasering a man’s genitals). Since one of the primary themes if not the predominant notion behind Larsson’s writing is men’s misogyny and willingness to degrade women, it is unsurprising that Salander is a beast in a fight. She can topple almost any enemy. She is a brilliant hacker, researcher, and is a mathematics genius (I wish they had explored this more).
Before wrapping up my review I need to say a few words about Salander’s (Rapace’s) sexuality. She is bisexual and weighs well under 100 pounds. Her tattoo is not just a work of art; it is a mechanism of seduction. It is a metaphor for her torment and strength within. In both films she is a sexual creature but is for the most part emotionally divorced from romance. She is simply in it for the pleasure of sex. This keeps her independence alive. Strikingly, on top of being one of the best actresses I have ever seen, she is quite possibly the sexiest.
The action has no lulls. It is heart-pounding and never-ending. The acting (with the exception of Lena Endre as Erika Berger) is phenomenal. Even Micke Spreitz matches the written character Ronald Niedermann in height, hair color and brute strength. While I did not feel as much suspense or surprise here as I did watching the first movie that can only be attributed to the fact that I have read the trilogy and understand the story almost photographically. The only complaint I can iterate and reiterate (having highlighted it already) is the 129 minute length of the movie. It should have been a full three hours but I understand reading subtitles for 3 hours is no picnic at the beach. Director Daniel Alfredson deserves an A+. The Girl Who Played with Fire will serve only to make me salivate for months or years until the release of Hornet’s Nest. In the meantime I remain impressed, fascinated and gratified at having been able to go on this journey.
Member Florida Film Critics Circle
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