Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Having whipped up a storm on the European art-house front, the big-screen adaptation of the first book in late author Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was released to much acclaim in the UK earlier this year. Now, the franchise thunders on apace with its follow-up, The Girl Who Played with Fire, expanding, in classic sequel fashion, on both the characters and the global underbelly of sexual violence that Dragon Tattoo disturbingly eked out.

There's just one vital thing missing: atmosphere. Dragon Tattoo, for all its flaws (namely clunky plotting stemming from the baggy novel) wove a darkly intoxicating world in that classic, dour Swedish fashion, where any number of snowy, chilly landscapes is well-matched in the haunting, austere close-ups of its leading actors. This time round, what new director Daniel Alfredson (taking over from Niels Arden Oplev) gains in pace, he loses in credibility. So relentless is the onslaught of revelations, double-crosses and cupboard skeletons that it threatens to become laughable.

Thank goodness then for the leads, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, reprising their roles as, respectively, enigmatic hacker Lisbeth Salander, and the world weary journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. This time around, steely, tenacious Salander returns to Sweden from her excursions abroad, to remind her repulsive rapist guardian, Bjurman (Peter Andersson) of the importance of submitting appropriate behavioral reports. It's when she's back on native soil that a newly employed journalist at Blomkvist's Millennium Magazine is found murdered, one who had been investigating apparent sex trafficking. When Salander is fingered for both his and Bjurman's deaths, she is forced to go on the run and delve into her own torturous past, one that had previously been just hinted at in horrific, fiery dribs and drabs.

While Salander learns horrifying truths about her own upbringing, on another front, Blomkvist makes ever more repulsive psycho-sexual discoveries, the likes of which have formed Salander's icy, mechanical resolve towards men. It's a potent brew, and Alfredson's compressed narrative isn't quite up to the task, betraying its made-for-TV origins. By the time a Dolph Lundgren lookalike turns up, unable to feel pain, one expects Salander to raise a Roger Moore-style eyebrow. It's never quite able to rise like a proud phoenix from the ashes, instead just barely coming to the boil. There's smoke, but no real fire - except when it comes to the performances.

Residing over it all is the magnificent Rapace, who gives arguably the breakout female performance of the year: afflicted but never a victim; sexy but not sexualised; who receives no quarter and gives none in return. In spite of the overwrought nonsense cluttering up this second entry, Salander is the moral heart of the piece, a wonderfully potent creation and a subtle one too. Rapace seizes the role with open arms, moving beyond mere cosmetic alterations to expose the concerns at the heart of Larsson's work. It's just a shame that the story contrives to largely keep her and the suitably understated Nyqvist apart, distancing us from that core of humanity needed increasingly as the plotting becomes ever more overheated.

No comments:

Post a Comment