"The Girl Who Played With Fire," scorches the big screen as a worthy follow-up, coming only four months after the U.S. release of the spine-tingling import, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Easily one of the best films of 2010, released this week on DVD, "Tattoo" adapted the first volume of the late author Stieg Larsson's international pop culture phenomenon, the Millennium trilogy.
If you go "The Girl Who Played With Fire" 4 out of 5 stars Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist Director: Daniel Alfredson Not Rated Running time: 129 minutes In Swedish with English subtitles
"Fire," the second of the pictures produced out of the writer's native Sweden, doesn't deliver the dramatic effect of the first. But fortunately, it does feature the same fine actors in the lead roles: Noomi Rapace as the wildly original title character -- enigmatic punk hacker Lisbeth Salander -- and Michael Nyquvist as her rumpled champion, the world-weary investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist. Their series has become like the adult equivalent of "Harry Potter" or "Twilight" for the way the three violent crime thrillers have touched a worldwide nerve -- 40 million books have been sold. The last of the Swedish language films, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," comes to American art houses this fall.
Tragically, needlessly, Scarlett Johansson and Brad Pitt already are being considered for a Hollywood version of the trilogy, to be directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club"). If you witness Rapace's at once fierce and vulnerable performance, it seems impossible that anyone else could ever play the androgynous survivor Lisbeth.
After helping Mikael solve a serial murder case and exacting revenge on her evil guardian (Peter Andersson), in "Tattoo," this protagonist must face that rapist again in "Fire." Their tense reunion leads Lisbeth to be framed for three murders; they are tied to an expose for Mikael's magazine about the link of high officials to Sweden's sex-trafficking trade.
Although she has not seen her friend and occasional lover Mikael in some time, he immediately immerses himself to clear her name. The resulting mystery involves Lisbeth's disturbing childhood and two vicious foes (portrayed by Georgi Staykov and Micke Spreitz) with a shocking personal connection to her.
Originally shot for Swedish television, directed by Daniel Alfredson from a Jonas Frykberg screenplay, "Fire" has very rough production values and a less complete narrative (as it sets up "Hornet's Nest"). Compared with "Tattoo," it also offers less subtext and realism.
As a suspense yarn, however, it is still engrossing -- especially if you have seen or read part one and become invested in these damaged but enormously sympathetic heroes.