The Girl who Played with Fire (2009) – A review by Film Nerd

Director: Daniel Alfredson

Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Yasmine Garbi, Hans Christian Thulin, Paolo Roberto

Synopsis: A film adapted from the second book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy.   Dag Svensson (Thulin) joins the ranks of the Millennium offices to write an article on the sex trade.   Both he and his criminologist girlfriend Mia are murdered prior to him publishing his findings, however.   Forensic evidence links Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) to the scene of the crime, however Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) believes she is innocent, tracking down the mysterious “Zala” whom Dag was investigating instead.

Having had to revise my review for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after having finally read the book, I have rectified that mistake with The Girl who Played with Fire, having read the book before my first viewing.   That decision was great for the enjoyment of the book, with all the clues unravelling as Larsson had intended them.   However, though once again all the most important elements are present in this film, there are so many small changes to the original text that it gets a little frustrating, and some of these changes actually create plot holes that were not present originally.

From the offset, I immensely enjoyed reading the book, though I do feel the first book was a bit more entertaining overall, in the sense that the murder of Harriet Vagner was perhaps a more gripping tale.   The mystery in the sequel is to determine exactly who “Zala” is.   The answers are all shocking, yet the investigation did not feel quite as fun for me.   So I was anticipating having the same issues with the film version, and as such I will not take these elements to necessarily negatively affect my overall review.

Once again, as with the adaptation of the first book, my first annoyance was the number of peripheral characters that were almost eliminated from the story.   I understand the reasons for this, particularly in terms of pacing and the confusion that can result from too many characters present in a film just over two hours long.   Yet when you include moments from the book, such as Inspector Bublanski insisting Sonja Modig be on his investigative team, and then you do not include in the film the explosive results of this decision, it seems like there is a wasted opportunity, especially as the adaptation of the first novel was twenty minutes longer, and the inclusion of these story elements would for me have aided the story.   Overall, the police side of the investigation is not given much focus at all, instead leaving the two leads to do all the work.

This also would not have been a problem had the screen writers actually adhered to the nature of that relationship.   Blomkvist and Salander do not share much screen time in this film, yet in the book they did regularly communicate via computer.   Yet this communication was abridged in the film, and a hell of a lot more friendly.   Salander has reason to be taciturn with Blomkvist in the book, another storyline not delved into in the film, yet Salander often comes across as too nice in this film, and I feel it damages her character strengths of being both odd socially, yet incredibly intelligent.

My final criticism is taking a brilliant action scene from the book and then altering it on-screen.   In the book, Paolo Roberto (a famous boxer playing himself in the film) fights for his life with a blonde giant whom cannot feel pain.   He barely escapes hitting him over the head with a piece of wood.   The giant then sets the scene of the fight alight to eliminate evidence.   In the movie however, he knocks Roberto out, then sets the barn alight assuming he will be killed… the same mistake as every Bond villain makes.   This is a guy that can snap necks with his hands alone, and does not give a second thought about doing so.   Also, in this version he is made to forget about the information he wanted and he is just killing his informant.    At least if he know they have escaped, all these wrinkles are ironed out.   All he can do is eliminate evidence and distance himself.   There was no reason for the screen writers to change this scene, and it did lose my interest for a period there.

If I were writing this review with no knowledge of the book, I admit I would have fewer criticisms.   However, objectively this film does feel a bit like it is painting by numbers, and just leaking information to the audience as necessary.   Nyqvist and Rapace remain great in their respective roles, but the film has very little flavour, and not enough character moments are included for these too to really maintain audiences sympathies.   So in the end, great book, and I recommend that version of this story much more highly than the film adaptation.

2.5 stars out of 5.


The Girl who Played with Fire on IMDB

The Girl who Played with Fire on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=]

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