Wednesday 1 September 2010

Not-so-hot property: "The Girl who Played With Fire"

The further adventures of Stieg Larsson's Gothy computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander arrive here - in the form of The Girl Who Played with Fire - with the distinct sheen of property porn, such as the BBC's English-language translation of Wallander, itself a sucker for Scandinavian design, was prone to in its earlier instalments. We rejoin Salander (Noomi Rapace) in a Caribbean retreat blessed with high ceilings and an expansive ocean view, but she's soon being recalled to Stockholm, where - in a brisk bit of business - she will give her apartment away to a fuckbuddy and install herself in a pad that boasts notable cupboard space, an unimpeded view of the Norrström, and (most crucially, given her stock-in-trade) uninterrupted wireless coverage.

What else is new? Oh yes, as she's been abroad, she's returned with an unlikely tan - not quite full-body, as the camera allows us to observe in the opening moments, but still, you can't help but feel she's letting the Goth side down somewhat. The upgrade process - a nice holiday, a palatial new residence - is typical of characters returning for sequels, of course; it's just at the rate dear Lisbeth is going, she's likely to end up with a diamond ring through her nose by the end of the trilogy. On the professional front, at least, things aren't going quite so well: for one, she's being framed for the murder of the abusive guardian upon whom she turned the tables in the first part, and that of a researcher working a big sex trafficking case involving several high-profile police and judges.

Proving her innocence will again require her hacking into the laptop of crusading journalist Micke Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) - firewalls, man, firewalls! - about which time the Millennium trilogy's central relationship reveals itself as so much authorial fantasy. "She reads every word I write," our journo-hero joshes, which must be reassuring in these uncertain times for print journalism; when the two characters are finally reunited in person, late on in TGWPWF, it feels motivated less by Micke's concern for Lisbeth's safety than by his fears his circulation may decrease by one: in this day and age, you have to fight for all the readers you can get.

This second film, directed by Daniel Alfredson from a screenplay by Jonas Frykberg, seems less like an event (as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did) than a patchy TV movie, although that term may have less of a stigma attached in its native country, where episodes of the original Wallander are released theatrically for communal consumption, perhaps - you might argue - as part of the Mankell project of Swedish self-scrutiny. (The two franchises share a production company - Yellow Bird - and an actress: the rather wonderful Lena Endre, who shares much the same yearning relationship with Micke as she does with the redoubtable Inspector Kurt.)

While Lisbeth has evidently prospered between entries, elsewhere there's been a marked scaling-down of the material, borne out by the milder UK certificate. The original was a savvy revival of noir tropes - the offshore retreat, the journalist fighting to clear his name, the murky family history - boosted by Niels Arden Oplev's atmospheric selection of locations. Entrenched in the city, The Girl Who Played with Fire is domesticated, if not entirely grounded; the aspect ratio has withered accordingly. One informant is found in a retirement home; another pottering around first the garden centre, then the allotment. The denouement takes place in one character's front room, with Lisbeth installed on a grotty sofa and the remains of last night's supper on the table.

Alfredson has to work that much harder to fill even this reduced frame, and sometimes the strain shows in images that flirt with kitsch: consider the tableau that shows Rapace flaunting her underarm hair in bed beside an ashtray holding several days' worth of cigarette ends. There's nonsense of Larsson's own making, too, like the introduction of a former Soviet military operative built like the proverbial, who lacks only nerve endings and is thus unable to feel any pain - the kind of Bond villain who's probably more deserving of an undemanding read by the pool than a place on the big screen. It'll do as a commuter timekiller - and won't lose anything much downloaded to an iPhone - but remains mostly artless: you may emerge less inclined to see the final part than you are to pick out some hardwood laminate flooring.

The Girl Who Played with Fire is on selected release.

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