Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review - The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo wasn't a great film, but it had a sense of style, some slick editing and it told a moderately intriguing story. None of these qualities can be applied to the film's slapdash sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire. This is the second screen adaptation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy but it already feels like the wheels have started to come off, and despite being a shorter film than its predecessor, The Girl Who Played with Fire feels senseless and interminable. Having not read Larsson's novels, I don't know how much of this is down to the simple fact that the source material is weaker this time around, but I do think a lot of the blame has to lie at the feet of director Daniel Alfredson.

He's a newcomer to this series, picking up the reins from Niels Arden Oplev, who did a creditable job on the original. It is not a change for the better as Alfredson seems to lack any sense of vision or storytelling momentum. He takes an age to set the story in motion and he almost loses his way in the opening minutes, with a flurry of flashbacks and subplots clouding the issue. This time around, the story sees computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) being framed for multiple murders and going on the run, with investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) doing his bit to help clear her name. There's also an investigation into a sex-trafficking ring, revelations about Lisbeth's father, a lesbian sex scene (the only time Alfredson seems to really take some care over his composition and lighting), some very impressive record-keeping from a German amateur boxing club, and an Aryan giant impervious to pain who seems to have wandered in from a 1980's Bond movie.

Jesus, it's boring even to type this. The screenplay by Jonas Frykberg (who also had nothing to do with the first film) joins these dots in the most unimaginative manner possible – a quick search on Google solves most problems – and some of the twists are beyond ridiculous. The film never coheres and it just unfolds flaccidly onscreen as a series of disconnected incidents driven by silly coincidences and clichés. A better director than Alfredson may have been able to gloss over some of these deficiencies, but his choice of camera angles, his use of slow-motion and his sense of mise-en-scène is utterly generic from first frame to last. The grey and washed-out cinematography utilised makes every scene look dreary, and I began to wonder if the same flaws that cripple The Girl Who Played with Fire were present in the first film but were smartly hidden by the sleek production. Certainly, Larsson's habit of painting every male character as either a noble do-gooder or a sick, abusive bastard is horribly exposed second time around.

The film only has one real asset in its favour, with Noomi Rapace reprising her role as The Girl Who Should Be in a Better Film. There has been much talk in recent weeks about the various actresses up for the role of Lisbeth in the forthcoming (and completely unnecessary) US version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I doubt any of the women considered will have the same impact that Rapace has had in the part. She brings a great sense of dark mystery to the troubled avenging angel Lisbeth, and even while her character is often short-changed here by not having enough interesting things to do, Rapace remains a fascinating and magnetic presence. Her contribution isn't quite enough to hold this barely competent film together, though, and I had completely lost all interest by the time the film finished in an amusingly abrupt fashion (it's as if everyone involved suddenly decided that they'd wasted enough of our time already). Frankly, it's hard to give a damn about what may lie ahead in the third episode The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which is due for release in November. I have been reliably informed that the final book in the series is the worst of the three, and with Alfredson once again sitting in the director's chair, even the return of Rapace in the role she has made her own isn't enough to stoke my anticipation levels.