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Cinema Signal: Go! The brilliance of the book is carried into a powerful, character based mystery series in three parts.

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Bundle: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
(Only $44.96 and free shipping from Amazon)
[Ed. note: because of the unpredictable way accented letters are rendered
in English language browsers, they have been intentionally omitted.]
"The Girl Who Played With Fire"
(aka, Flickan som lekte med elden")

Welcome to the world of low-budget crime thrillers. No hairy chases across rooftops and highways, no high-tech graphics to punch up the clues, no 8-frame cuts to keep you alert. It's doubtful that the budget for costumes for this film went over $300 (or the equivalent in Kroner). From the plain, drably realistic approach you see on screen, one might even wonder if the cast had to brown bag their lunches. But, boy, does it work as a character-driven drama!

It does so for several reasons, not the least of which is the superb book on which it's based--one that has caused a sensation in the book publishing business--an adaptation that implies keen dedication to Steig Larsson's written words, and an astute eye in casting. With elements like these, a Jerry Bruckheimer approach is entirely superfluous.

This second book in the trilogy upon which the movie is based is aimed on revealing the identity of the men creating havoc in the Swedish community with three murders. Most vitally concerned is the slender, bi-sexual, underestimated terror, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). With an iron will and intellectual genius, she represents a nightmare for the authority figures who turned her into a martial arts expert filled with hatred and a demand for retribution. Now, wronged again by the authorities, she's accused of the killings because her fingerprints were found on the gun belonging to the third victim, lawyer Nils Bjurman, a sick rapist who had been appointed as her guardian. But, as a preceding scene shows, she used his gun one night to remind him of his obligations to her and of the consequences if he doesn't live up to his promises.

Finding the real killer, though, is only an immediate first step in unmasking the women=hating monsters who subjected her to mental and physical torture as a teenager and then putting her into the hands of a degenerate. Obtaining justice for her mental scars is a single-minded quest to find those responsible and end their hidden power structure within the Swedish government.

But, first, she must destroy her vilest enemy before he destroys her. She's already set him on fire for the way he savaged her mother, but he survived. His existence now is covered in a mist of secrecy and official protection. Only now, as the investigation over the murders proceeds, his name finally appears for the police and the press to ponder. Zala. A man with a pathology to compete against every international icon of evil in the last forty years. Tracking the animal down couldn't be more life-threatening. Lisbeth Salander is as much prey as she is hunter.

The second person to whom this tangle of secrecy and coverup is of such profound concern is the star investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (cool Michael Nyqvist) who writes for his and his partner-lover's monthly publication devoted to the exposure of corruption, Millenium. Two of the three murder victims were writers on his staff whose research had uncovered officials involved in a pattern of crimes that made the Swedish government look like a rat's nest of psychopaths. Blomkvist's prior knowledge of Salander (in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), both intellectual and carnal, makes him certain she's no more the killer of his reporters than he is. His is a relentless probe that's as vital to him, his publication and to society as Salander's. What they don't yet realize is that they're after the same pit of snakes.

What makes the mystery so compelling is a depth and complexity that doesn't allow one line of this hunt for moral monsters to lead to any more than a part of the puzzle. For the full truth to be revealed, several seemingly independent discoveries must be put together and Larsson's story construction saps each step of that process for intensity of drama and its ironies. The books' effect of smashing sales records around the world also owes much to a singular relationship between a perceptive man and a woman whose intuitive distrust separates them but who, together, form a team of avengers--correcters of a seethingly evil cabal.

The film culminates in one of the most arch and wrenching moments of the entire series--one whose immediate aftermath will continue in the third part of the trilogy--when the full depth and nature of the consipiracy will, at last, be known.

Thankfully for film lovers, the author's brilliance seeps into every corner of the film, which is all the more appreciated by the fact that director Daniel Alfredson picks up the story following Niels Arden Oplev's work on the first film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Similarly, screenwriter Jonas Frykberg picked up his reins from the work of Nikolaj Arce and Rasmus Heisterberg.

Not that a difference in styles (and budget and quality) isn't noticeable. What accounts for this is the production plan. According to one Swedish source, the final two films were originally intended for a Swedish TV-series and thence directly to DVD. Talk about lack of vision or confidence. When the first film turned in the biggest numbers ever known in Sweden, paralleling the massive worldwide interest in the books, the producers jumped on the money wagon and cut the TV production down to 129 minutes for release as the second in the film trilogy. The TV approach demonstrates a lowered level of pacing and tension than the first film, with a plodding faithfulness in narrative detail. High action is scarce in the early stages. We hear about the murders in the headlines without hearing a gunshot. But, as the pieces start coalescing into a picture of criminality and as Blomkvist's interviews begin to shape the signs of a conspiracy, and as Larsson's dramatic line has taken hold on your gut engagement with the material, you are so intensely involved in what the next frame will bring you couldn't be pried from your theatre seat.

Credit for that grip on our involvement goes mightily to Rapace's skill in interpreting Larsson's creation--the slender victim of abuse who combines startling intellectual genius with physical ferocity; and to Nyqvist's rendering of a man who, like Larsson himself, is wholly devoted to correcting injustice generally, and that which Salander suffered, in particular. With absolute faith in her innocence regarding the murders, he puts his own life on the line to track her down, ultimately finding her close to death. His actions test Salander's almost total distrust of men.

Side notes: Rapace has been approached about reprising her role in this series for an American prodution. So far she's declined, having plenty of other work scheduled. She's had it with Lisbeth Salander. The concern, then, is, what American actress will get the role. Is there a cross between Ellen Page and Glenn Close?

Readers of "The Girl Who Played With Fire" will find it interesting that the entire first part of the book, detailing Salander's vacation tour, her solution to Fermat's Last Theorem and mental exercises with other mathematical brain-blasters. Larsson, no doubt, was having fun with the extent of the woman's intellectual capacity, combining such preoccupations of her mind with the fact that she was living the good life on the Wennerstrom money that made her rich enough to cover all needs for the rest of her life. The film version of the saga picks up with her return to Stockholm.

If only she wasn't such a smoke factory. Clearly, Swedish TV has no problem with chain smoking, which is such a prevalent prop for Salnder that you have to fear for the condition of Rapace's lungs. The girl's a poster child for the nicotine rush.

My reading of "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" ended in a state of sadness. Larsson, who died almost immediately after delivering his manuscripts for the three books to his Swedish publisher, had intended to carry on the series for a total of ten. The fourth exists, the major part of which was found in his laptop--and the literary world awaits a legal decision regarding its disposition.

An estimated 40 million copies of the Millenium books have been sold worldwide. "To say it is unusual for a posthumous work in translation to reach number one on the New York Times bestseller list is an understatement. To see a posthumous work in translation reach number one around the world is unprecedented." (From the press notes--for once facts, not hype).

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site rating: 7

The movie was excellent. I can not think of an actress (other than Ellen Page) who could play Lisbeth. Further, why must Hollywood do a remake-leave the movie alone-Hollywood will only ruin it

                                                           ~~ Ray W. 
[Ed. note: Though you and I, and all those who are likely to come here, are fully aware of Noomi Rapace and her effectiveness in this role, we represent a small fraction of the universe of moviegoers. The greater majority, sadly, won't consider going to a foreign film and have to read subtitles. That translates to a huge potential audience for this series in the English language and with a star cast. To date, this film has taken in a mere two million dollars stateside. A U.S. production could multiply that by two zeros. I side with your take on it but I do see the silver lining of many more folks being made aware of Larsson's epic achievement. A small fraction of that new group may even read the books! I can accept that and just hope I won't grimace with a disappointing adaptation.]

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