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The Girl Who Played With Fire: A Weird Review

Quickie movie review: The Girl Who Played With Fire (the real Swedish version)

Seen at: Cincinnati’s Esquire Theater
Pre-movie meal: BLT, cantaloupe, ice cream sandwich, and a Great Lakes Brewing “Eliot Ness” beer

Before we get to The Girl Who Played With Fire, let me say that pre-film I was charmed by the trailer for Get Low, the new flick where Robert Duvall plays a cranky old hermit who decides he wants to hold his own funeral so he can hear what everyone says about him. Bill Murray plays the undertaker, Sissy Spacek plays his way-old flame, everyone is confused (“Bu- bu- but you’re not dead yet!”) and hilarity ensues.

The early reviews of the film made me think: “Ugh. Sounds like even Robert Duvall, godblesshim, can find a role that’s too cutesy-poo to bear.” But then you see those three up on the screen and you think, “Oh, all right, they’re terrific. They’re great old hams, all three of them. Just sit back and let them carry the ball.”

And they had better be good, because it’s one of those films where you *know* how it has to unfold — lots of warmly amusing scenes and then “startling” old secrets revealed as we head toward the inevitable funeral. The only mystery, really, is what kind of wild card they’ll throw in: Will the Robert Duvall character actually croak at the end and everyone weeps over his corpse?  Or does Bill Murray decide that his professional creed won’t allow him to hold a funeral for a living man, so he shoots Duvall *during* the funeral just to make it right?

I personally would like to see Murray steal the same plot for Lost in Translation II, where his world-weary movie star decides to hold his own funeral in Tokyo, with the eulogy delivered by the “Suntory time!” director, translated badly by his assistant, with the “Lip my stockings!” woman weeping and screaming in the front row.

At the very end the casket opens and Scarlett Johansson sits up — she’s been inside, listening all along — and tells Bill Murray that she’s left her callow young hot photographer husband and wants to sing karaoke with him for the rest of her life.  The good hip insider kind of karoke, not the terrible karaoke that American tourists sing.  Then there’s a close-up where they reveal the secret phrase that Bill Murray whispered to her at the end of Lost in Translation I, which was…

“You’d be great for Lisbeth Salander in the American remake of The Girl Who Played With Fire!”

That was what this review is supposed to be about, right?  These Swedish films really are good enough to make me dread the Hollywood remakes that are being yakked about so much, with every American actress younger than Faye Dunaway being touted for the role of crazy-girl Lisbeth.  (Seriously, Emma Watson?) They’re just not going to improve on Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, and they shouldn’t even try.

Now for the “quickie movie review” part:

1) Late, great author Stieg Larsson sure understood that keeping the action moving is Job One, even if the action seems completely absurd.  He was not a shy man with a plot twist.  There are at least three moments in this film where I said “Oh, come on, that could NEVER happen.” One of those moments is a colossal whopper near the end — but hey, at least he’s keeping you guessing.

2) The face of Michael Nyqvist, who plays hero journalist Mikael Blomkvist, is one of those great weathered movie-star faces that are just great to look at.  His reaction shots as he talks to suspects, cops, etc, are worth the price of the ticket.

3) Noomi Rapace is still terrific, but she seemed just a bit less terrific in this film than she was in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In the first film she had a truly feral star quality.  Here she seems not totally engaged (or possibly just puzzled by all the plot twists).

4) Or maybe she got confused trying to count up the number of guys in these films who are creepy sex slavers, creepy johns, creepy serial rapists, creepy woman-batterers, or creepy doctors, cops, and government officials who were nasty to Lisbeth sometime in the past 20 years.  It’s very hard to keep up. There were three or four times in this film where I said “Wait, THAT guy abuses women, too?  Along with those other seven guys earlier?”  (I’m saying things aloud more in theaters these days.)

Perhaps this is just fitting payback for all the movies in world history where women were abused, or reduced to playing hookers-with-hearts-of-gold, etc, etc. Still, I can only manage so many villains in one film. It’s a little like Murder On the Orient Express, where you find yourself saying “Jeez, so EVERYONE except Albert Finney was a murderer?” (Oop! Spoiler alert!) Maybe a better example is, it’s like Star Wars with five Darth Vaders.  “Wait, THAT guy constructed a Death Star and choked his underlings mercilessly from across the room, too?” It can be hard to keep up.

5) Gotta love a movie where the crusading hero drives a Toyota Prius.  Only in Sweden!

Overall, I loved last year’s film of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and I liked The Girl Who Played With Fire still quite a bit. It’s certainly well worth a viewing on a summer night.  I give it 7.5 creepy bad guys out of a possible 10.

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