Playing with fire doesn't make a spark

Posted: Thursday, September 09, 2010

"The Girl Who Played with Fire"

Nordisk Film

2 hours, 9 minutes

In Sweden, caution tape is blue and white.

No, this isn't a teaser for Triviapalooza 2010 - rather it's but one of the numerous tidbits I came away from this weekend's cinematic adventure. Eschewing new releases "Machete" and "Going the Distance," I decided to branch out and take advantage of our Fair weekend in the big city. My wife and I opted for a theater/pub combining delicious pizza and beer with "The Girl Who Played with Fire," the second in the Swedish Millennium trilogy, which begins with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and ends with "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest."

Now, I haven't read any of these incredibly popular books, nor have I seen the Swedish film version of "Tattoo," which came out in the U.S. this spring. Going to see "The Girl Who Played with Fire" was a little like diving into the deep end of a pool where all the lifeguards spoke nothing but Swedish, but we were game for anything.

My biggest fear, that I would have no idea what was going on, proved to be somewhat unfounded. While you don't get a recap or anything, it was pretty easy to gather the information that was necessary from the first film and move on. I did have a little trouble keeping track of what was happening, but that had less to do with lack of prior knowledge than the fact that half the time the subtitles were in white text on a white background. Oh well.

Computer whiz and amateur detective Lisbeth Salander, played by the lithe and somewhat frightening looking Noomi Rapace, is a woman adrift. After some pretty horrible experiences in her last adventure, she is now on a kind of sabbatical, interrupting her rest and reflection only to strike fear into the heart of Nils Bjurman, a man who was briefly her tormentor. This guy apparently let her get the upper hand which was a bad mistake on his part. For now, she's letting him live, so long as he does what she asks, mainly to use his influence to keep her out of prison.

But the pressure's getting too much for Bjurman who, after being confronted by some people involved in some kind of sex-trafficking scheme, puts out a hit on Salander. In the meantime, pudgy newspaperman Mikael Blomkvist, played by Michael Nyqvist, is hard at work editing his magazine, Millennium. He and Salander have a past of some kind that I'm sure is fleshed out in "Dragon," but it's enough to know that they are friends, at least as much as the reclusive computer hacker has friends. When two of Blomkvist's reporters are murdered, it's Salander who's going to take the fall -- that is unless our intrepid reporter can ferret out the truth first.

"Fire" is certainly not a bad movie, but it wasn't really the classic foreign film experience I was hoping for. Instead it feels as if a canny Swedish production company got its hands on the Millennium property early and wisely chose to exploit it as quickly as possible, rushing the films out ahead of those in America with deeper pockets.

The acting is mostly fine, but the overall production value of the film is mediocre at best. I think the problem is that this is a thriller with a fair amount of action, and yet it's filmed as though it's an arthouse drama. Arthouse is what the Europeans do best -- drab people sitting in drab rooms staring bleakly at each other as the sad tapestry of their lives unravels.

That's how much of "Fire" feels, and yet, on paper, it's the story of a kick-ass computer hacker on the lam for murders she didn't commit.

Let's face it, Americans make big, loud, exciting movies. And we're really good at it. Sure, some of them are pretty dumb, but at least we've got the technique down. The people involved in "Fire" did their best, I'm sure, but the action scenes -- fight scenes, in particular, are pretty painful: slow, awkward, and terribly staged.

I'm probably going to have my snobby film critic's credentials yanked for this, but I'm really looking forward to the Hollywood versions of these stories.

The first, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," is due from director David Fincher next year with James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, in the role of Blomkvist. Fincher, who brought us such varied fare as "Se7en," "Fight Club," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and this year's "The Social Network," can do moody and cool, as well as action-packed. With him onboard, it would appear that most fans of the books, and even the Swedish films, are eagerly anticipating next year's English language version.

Really the only controversy is the casting of Salander, who many feel Noomi Rapace has embodied so completely that no one else should even try. In the role, Fincher has cast his "Social Network" star, newcomer Rooney Mara. She's been little seen on the big screen, so it's hard to say how she'll do, but already the internet is abuzz with leaked photos from the set which show Mara with, gasp, a short black haircut!

I'm sure, as the months roll by, every element of this production will be scrutinized, from the placement of Salander's nose ring to the look of the actual dragon tattoo. My hope is, however, that Fincher doesn't settle for a super-faithful, shot for shot kind of remake of the Swedish film.

To be fair, I haven't seen the original of the film he's going to be remaking, but David Fincher has a great sensibility, and I hope the powers that be, fans and studio heads alike, allow him to make his version of the story.

"Fire," though entertaining, doesn't generate much heat. At least the pizza, beer, and the company were great. Grade: B-

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" is rated R for sexual situations, nudity, and violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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