Thursday, November 18, 2010
You Can't Keep an Abused Hacker Down
One of the big disappointments of adapting a novel to film is all the material that must be left out. However, one of the big advantages of adapting a Stieg Larsson novel to film is all the material that can be left out. The Millennium Trilogy books are page turners, but are so stuffed full of subplots and journalistic derring-do, one wonders if a stricter editorial voice would have made big improvements. By definition, the films are leaner and more focused on the anti-heroine.
The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second installment of the trilogy. Helming duties were shifted from Niels Anton Oplev, who directed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, to Daniel Alfredson, brother of Tomas Alfredson, who directed Let the Right One In. The middle part of a trilogy is always a sticky wicket because it must deliver to audiences what they expect from the first installment — plus set up the finale.
The breakout star of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was neither Stieg Larsson nor his leading man, his journalist doppelganger Micke Blomqvist. Larsson invented a character who was so new, so damaged, and so impervious to anything from cruelty to love, that she was the one who captured the imagination. She took his books and ran away with them, as much as he tried to keep Micke in the picture. As electrifyingly played by Noomi Rapace, Lisbeth Salander is the true lead of these films.
When we last saw Lisbeth Salander at the end of Tattoo, she was seen by investigative journalist Micke Blomqvist in the process of reappropriating funds from a corrupt businessman. At the open of Fire, she is living somewhere tropical, but having nightmares about the traumas in her life. She decides to check in on one of the perpetrators by hacking into his computer. Based on what she finds, she decides to return to Stockholm, where she gets implicated in a triple murder. Micke steadfastly fights for her innocence, while discovering at the same time that Lisbeth’s father is involved in a high level conspiracy. This film, like the first one, keeps its leads separate for most of the running time, although the immediacy of the manhunt keeps the pacing up. Lisbeth is running her own investigation while evading the authorities, and eventually she goes after her abusive father.
The irascible anti-hero in the mold of House is familiar to modern audiences, but Lisbeth is different certainly in degree if not in kind. Fire gives us some more backstory into the events that shaped the woman she became and why she is as violent as she is. When you’re caught up in a system, especially one that has defined you as incompetent to manage your own affairs, you’re on your own. The violence in Tattoo has more context after the viewing of Fire and that context may change a watcher’s attitude about the necessity of showing it. The first novel was initially titled Men Who Hate Women, and those men are who Lisbeth has zero mercy for. Her mother experienced it, she experienced it, and that’s what drives her.
Ironically, during the confrontation she is open and relaxed. By being in the same room with her father, she is facing down the demon rather than dreaming about him. Unfortunately, she has the tables turned on her and is shot and buried alive. Micke is on his way, but rather than riding in on a white horse to save her, he arrives only to see the aftermath. The final film, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, picks up immediately thereafter.
Fire works well on its own as a thriller, and should be understandable to viewers who have not yet seen Tattoo. It has the elements of a procedural, but it’s grounded in larger themes of corruption in society, crimes against women, and of course, revenge. Fans of the books will know whether or not Lisbeth is guilty of and eventually charged with the original murders, but that does not take away from the suspense. Most of us just want to see more of the confounding and provoking Lisbeth Salander.
(An interesting side note is that Larsson wrote a minor bit for a real life Swedish boxer named Paolo Roberto in the novel — and the real life Paolo Roberto played himself in the movie.)