The Girl who Played with Fire is, as everyone already knows, the second book in Steig Larsson's Millenium series - and the second of the Swedish film adaptations. The story picks up a year after the first one, Män som hatar kvinnor ('Men who hate women' in English, though the film was translated as 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'). Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander haven't seen each other for a year. Lisbeth's fingerprints are found on a gun used to kill three of their acquaintances. Rather than attempt to prove her innocence through the usual channels, Lisbeth disappears and begins investigating the murders. There are two other investigations going on in parralell: Blomkvist's, motivated by the death of his friends and his desire to prove Lisbeth's innocence (of this particular crime, at least) - and the fairly hapless enquiries carried out by the police.
Noomi Rapace is Lisbeth Salander. Her looks, attitude, moodiness and intelligence are perfectly poised in this assured, understated portrayal. This was true of her performance in Män som hatar kvinnor as well, but she is even more impressive in the sequel. Michael Nyqvist's solid, convincing Blomkvist sits well alongside, but this really is Rapace's film. She is complemented by the unflashy cinematography and the locations: largely the harsh, grey but beautiful Swedish countryside and Stockholm's classic city backdrop. These are major contributors to the success of this as an adaptation of the sombre, gritty novel.
This is not just an excellent adaptation of the novel. In many ways it's an improvement: the distractions of original, such as the intricate police procedural and political aspects (and the silliness of Lisbeth's proving Fermat's last theorem in her spare time), have been removed - making the story tighter and the action faster-paced. As such, I preferred it to the film of the first book, despite feeling the opposite about the novels. There exists a three-hour cut of the film, presumably featuring many of these removed plot points. I'd be surprised if it was an improvement over this cinematic release.
The Millenium series is also currently being adapted by David Fincher, who directed Fight Club and Seven. Much as I admire his work, I cannot imagine these new versions coming close to the perfection with which these Swedish films capture the spirit of Larsson's books.