Make Way for Lisbeth Salander
Born from Swede Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy novels, and making her sophomore movie appearance in The Girl Who Played with Fire following this year’s earlier The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is poised to become the movie world’s next big spy-thriller hero.
The character will make another appearance this fall when the third installment of the Swedish language movie series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, releases in September, followed by the forthcoming releases of all three Americanized remakes over the coming years. Though her popularity may never surpass such genre heavyweights as Simon Templar, Jack Ryan or even Jason Bourne, the character is quickly burrowing her way into our consciousness and silently making a run for spy-thriller protagonist predominance. Don’t forget her name. Lisbeth Salander will be a household movie heroine by the time the Hollywood machine is finished with her.
Not sure any current Hollywood actress can carry the mantle of Noomi Rapace’s angsty Lisbeth, but Kristen Stewart and Carey Mulligan’s names are being thrown around as possible candidates. Physically, Lisbeth is a tiny waif of a girl, but she uses her diminutive stature and solitary demeanor to mask the ferocious tenacity of her ways. Functionally, she’s an almost super-human fairy-tale heroine, a gothy 21st century Pippi Longstocking, able to slip in and out of danger as gracefully as an alley cat. So whoever lands the Hollywood version of the role, it’s crucial they’re capable of handling the complex duality of the character… substantially threatening, yet endearingly sympathetic.
At the beginning of The Girl Who Played with Fire, genius computer hacker and surveillance expert Lisbeth is living a life of obscurity in the Caribbean after making off with a ton of cash at the end of the first film. But her disturbing past suddenly re-emerges when she’s implicated in the murders of two political journalists who recently uncovered a sex trafficking plot that may reach the highest levels of Swedish society.
Though she and her sleuthing journalist pal (and sometimes lover) Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) parted ways over a year ago, the pair find themselves once again solving a murder together… he by following up on the investigative leads left behind by the dead reporters, she by following a trail of hacked computer leads and high-tech electronic surveillance. The two share very little screen time together, but their investigative paths intersect in some extremely clever ways. Lisbeth even occasionally finds herself up against the biggest, baddest bear of a villain who not only resembles a burlier version of Leslie Nielson, but also suffers from (or is blessed by) congenital analgesia, which renders him oblivious to pain. What a great physical trait for a movie villain!
Director Daniel Alfedson takes over the helm from Niels Arden Oplev (who directed the first film), and manages to infuse this installment with the same sense of fiery danger and provocative intrigue that made Dragon Tattoo so much fun to watch. He wraps the complex murder investigation around Lisbeth’s haunting back story, revealed in tiny little morsels of epiphany that shock and awe while methodically chipping away at Lisbeth’s steely façade. We slowly come to realize how deeply entangled the twisty-turny tentacles of political corruption are with Lisbeth’s persona. No wonder she carries a 20-pound chip on her butchy shoulders.
Technically, The Girl Who Played with Fire feels a bit more hastily prepared than its predecessor -- it hit theaters mere months after Dragon Tattoo was released. The pacing is inconsistent at times and some of the story’s more complex relationships could have used a bit more fleshing out, but considering the films were made by different directors, the seamlessness between the look and feel of the two is actually quite amazing.
Watch this film in its native Swedish release and enjoy the deliciously original Lisbeth Salander, our raven-haired Norse hero standing alone in a dark world of corrupt men who do very bad things. Experience tells us the forthcoming Hollywood versions are sure to lose something in the translation.
(Released by Music Box Films and rated “R” for brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.