Saturday, July 24, 2010

Diminishing Returns: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE

When experiencing a novel, the reader controls the speed. In the case of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl who Played with Fire, I found skimming to be the most enjoyable way to read the absurdly specific prose. In this novel, characters don’t simply drive; they take this type of car going south on this particular street so many kilometers and then turn left next to the small grove of trees next to a gas station. Characters don’t simply make a phone call; they pull out a particular brand of cell phone and dial a certain number. With the magic of skimming through the text, I still found the book to be lumpy and a slog, but I arrived at the occasional flashes of excitement much faster. It’s a mildly enjoyable summer tome.

In the theater, watching the movie version slowly slide through the projector, I wished for the same freedom to breeze past details. I didn’t much care for it’s film predecessor, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, either, but I found myself yearning for its comparatively greater pleasures. The Girl who Played with Fire doesn’t have anything that made me as mad as the earlier film at its most exploitative, but by the end I wish had a felt something other than boredom.

Sure, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist are back as Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. They do a great job inhabiting these characters that are certainly striking in their details. The thin, short, pierced and inked hacker Salander, especially, is worthy of the praise that has been thrown her way. She’s a memorable construction, to be sure, but I can’t be the only one who wishes that she were given more to do.

In this installment she’s kept off screen for quite a while, and when she does emerge to impact the plot it’s in ways that seem too pat and predictable. Most of her scenes in the film involve her sitting and smoking or, if we’re lucky, she’ll be reading or writing on her laptop. I understand that research is important to the plot, but it’s hard to get excited about so much typing. Salander is the one striking aspect of the whole film and she’s nearly overshadowed by scene after scene in which hastily described characters flow in and out of the plot with little explanation. It’s a complex plot that’s blurrily, ploddingly, and confusingly told. By the time the film reached its climax with sordid discoveries and cliffhanger showdowns, it was too little too late.

Thrillers work best when they move like clockwork, effortlessly moving character and plot in perfect synchronicity. Here director Daniel Alfredson, working from the screen adaption by Jonas Frykberg, is content to show us where each gear is and then close up the clock forgetting to put the hands on the clock’s face. I can hear the plot ticking away, but it’s of no practical use.

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