5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Stick to the UK DVD of the extended versions,
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This review is from: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / The Girl who Played with Fire / The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Extended Versions) [DVD] (DVD)
It's not too difficult to see why 2009's Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo became such an international sensation and, even more than the more accomplished The Killing or Wallander, the gold standard of the Nordic Noir invasion even without the growing momentum of the novels to drive it. It's also at times easy to see its roots as part of a TV mini-series (the TV series version runs a half hour longer), though where the two sequels from a different director are unmistakably small screen fare, this first entry in the trilogy is very much a real movie. It's not an especially fast paced movie, using its two-and-a-half hour running time to gradually build the characters and the mystery, the film nearing the one hour mark between Michael Nykvist's disgraced investigative journalist and Noomi Rapace's emotionally and physically abused hacker even meet. That first hour isn't always entirely convincing: while the violence and abuse Lisbeth encounters is both realistic and avoids being purely exploitative by showing just enough to convey the unpleasantness without gloating over it, at times it feels like it's been hammered in none-too-credibly to make a point about the way men exploit and abuse women, partially to create a greater sense of empathy with the murder victims but at times feeling like someone's grafted a manifesto onto a thriller (the novel and film's title literally translates as Men Who Hate Women).
What is rather more satisfying is that, a rather too pat revelation about a series of mysterious `phone numbers' aside (much more satisfyingly arrived at in the TV version), it's a detective story that's built around real detective work: sorting through records, journals, accounts, old photos and gradually drawing connections rather than just lazily having Lisbeth pretend to type at a computer and produce the answer or have Mikael chase a succession of bad guys who make stupid mistakes that lend themselves to action setpieces until they lead him to the real mastermind. And when one character finds himself listening to a serial killer in uncomfortable circumstances, the conversation is believably mundane and all the more chilling for it, not least for the utter emptiness of the motive.
Noomi Rapace makes a particularly striking lead, with the kind of flexible face that's at times that of a woman, at others a defensive young girl, complete with convincingly awkward body language that's not afraid to be completely without grace. Nykvist manages to hold his own in the much less showy role, making the most of the moments between dialogue to fill in the character without doing much, while the other roles are well enough cast to avoid entirely becoming simple repositories of information to advance the plot to the next step. It's not a particularly stylish film, which is one of its strengths - this is a film that gains some of its chill from being shot in the cold unblinking light of day, giving a sense that the crimes themselves are real rather than just movie Maguffins.
The extended TV version is also surprisingly satisfying despite its tacky new title sequence. Aside from some additional pleasingly mundane detective work and new and extended interviews with supporting players it's the subplot involving the fate of the Millennium magazine that gives the trilogy its TV title that makes up most of the additional running time, from Micke's relationship with his female publisher and the leaks within the sinking ship to its unexpected survival of the scandal that sends its star reporter to prison. That does tend to make Sven Bertil-Taube's character even more of a Santa Claus figure than he is in the theatrical cut, though it is in keeping with his nature: after all, while the original title may have been Men Who Hate Women, it's his unselfish love for a woman that ultimately stops everyone bleeding.
David Fincher, with his penchant for excessive gratuitous CGi and attention-grabbing camerawork, certainly couldn't improve on it: this is a film that's at it's most chilling when it's at it's most matter of fact, trusting the story to make its impact without overegging the direction or amping up the cinematography. The result isn't a great film but one that nonetheless makes for a surprisingly satisfying journey where, even if some of the happy endings as justice is done and order restored may be a bit too neat and tidy, you feel that the characters actually earn their moments of redemption and vindication.
That a new director is behind the camera on The Girl Who Played with Fire is instantly apparent, as is the lower budget for a somewhat more expansive story, not least because the shift from shooting on 35mm to Super 16mm is all too easy to tell on the DVD transfer. Rapace and her fake tan surprisingly fails to convince in her early scenes, success turning her into a bland shadow of herself, which is partially the point but one that at times feels more like half-hearted contractual obligation filmmaking than intent. Thankfully it doesn't take the film long to snap out of it as she returns to Sweden, but, although the mystery this time ultimately revolves around her own troubled past when she finds herself on the run for a series of murders linked to a sex trafficking ring, she spends much of the film adopting a different persona to her memorable look in the first film. It's more than just the blonde wig and abandoned piercings that changes the dynamic, the narrative separating Lisabeth and Mikael as they separately try to prove her innocence, uncovering another conspiracy in the process.
In many ways it's a much more conventional conspiracy thriller than the first film, with less of the meticulous real police work that was such a pleasingly down to earth aspect of -`s effort in favour of the more traditional informer-leads-to-clue-leads-to-bit-of-action-leads-to-new-informer-leads-to-etc, etc until the bad guy is revealed, even throwing in a car chase, a couple of fight scenes en route to another, this time not so chilling exposition-heavy chat with a killer of women (and men this time) at the end. It's done well but there's still more a feeling of being handed the solution piecemeal rather than earning it. The theme of misogyny running through society is nicely continued with a female detective who is the fall guy for her sexist colleagues misdemeanours, but it's done with a light enough touch not to feel like a lecture, and there's a more substantial role for the hauntedly intense Per Oscarrson, only briefly glimpsed in the extended cut of the first film, as Lisabeth's guardian this time round. Of the three theatrical films, this is the one that gains the most footage in the extended version - a whopping 50 minutes, improving the rushed and at times confused theatrical version considerably.
Where Fire was a new story, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is very much a continuation, dealing with the legal fallout and attempted cover up of the events of the first film. Once again Micke and Lisbeth are separated for almost the entire film, for not always as convincing reasons this time round. Unfortunately, while capably handled and engaging as television, it doesn't hold up to a great deal of scrutiny with its conspiracy that threatens a constitutional crisis all feeling a bit ho-hum when you think about it. It doesn't help that Stieg Larsson's penchant for powerful white knights coming to the rescue manifests itself in the very people you'd expect to have the biggest interest in covering it all up turning out to be incorruptible, awfully helpful and extraordinarily nice people who are only too willing to negotiate with the press - turns out all that nasty stuff has its roots in the days when Sweden didn't have a socialist government, and no-one told any of the subsequent socialist prime ministers anything about it. There's some novelty with the most ruthless of the villains being extremely old men, but with the means of covering their tracks often relying on hitmen arranging the odd suicide or disappearance and a shootout in a public restaurant we're in very generic territory en route to the lengthy courtroom finale where everyone will get their just desserts. Yet while it may be clichéd, it works on its own terms - or at least until the payback epilogue that just feels tacked on. The end result is a decent enough thriller in a season finale TV series way (appropriate enough for what really is a two-part TV season finale), but you can't help feeling that what was so fresh about the first story and its characters has become diluted along the way.
Unlike the US Blu-ray boxed set of the special editions, the UK Blu-ray release is both light on extras (just cast interviews, a featurette on the fight scene in the second film and traiulers) and has surprisingly poor picture quality - indeed, the transfers are so disappointing you're better off sticking with the DVD release which doesn't exaggerate the flaws so much.