Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Foreign Thriller Night at the Movies

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Having recently seen and loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (reviewed below), I was prepared to wait some time (with anticipation) for the sequel. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the sequel already playing in theatres. Unfortunately, despite the additional pleasant fact that The Girl Who Played with Fire was not about a serial killer, I was unpleasantly disappointed with the second instalment.

All of the technical components of film-making were done well enough (by mostly the same people), but almost all of them, including the acting, were inferior to the first film. Dragon Tattoo had an epic drama feel which is lacking in Played with Fire (not for lack of trying, but the new ‘background story’ for Lisbeth just didn’t work for me). The sequel, with its new crimes to solve, focused more on action, which doesn’t score any points with me. Indeed, I actually found Dragon Tattoo much more suspenseful than the sequel and that does score points with me.

I was drawn deeply into the lives of the protagonists in Dragon Tattoo, but the same characters in Played with Fire drew little such attention from me. Partly this was caused by the amount of time they had together on the screen (i.e. the lack thereof). But partly it was because the story focused much more on the theme of revenge (I don’t like revenge stories) and ended in a very similar way to the first film, thus sacrificing one of the best qualities of the first film - its originality.

Played with Fire was a satisfying thriller, but not much more than that. It gets a solid ***, but that’s a giant step down from the first film. Duncan, you appreciated Dragon Tattoo as much as I did, so I wonder whether you were also as disappointed as I was with the sequel.

The Secret in Their Eyes

There is no question that The Secret in Their Eyes is a better film than Played with Fire, but I did not think it was as good as The White Ribbon, which it beat for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film of 2009.

The strength of The Secret in Their Eyes, an Argentinean film written and directed by Juan Jose Campanella, is the character development and the actors who make that character development come alive. Each of the main characters is unique, memorable and well-acted (especially Ricardo DarĂ­n as Benjamin, Soledad Villamil as Irene and Guillermo Francella as Sandoval) and that’s what makes this subtle romantic thriller work. The central crime story (rape/homicide) is okay too (i.e. satisfying, like Played with Fire), but that’s really all it is, though the ending to this story strives for something greater and almost gets there.

It’s exciting to see such an excellent film from a country which makes relatively few films (at least few that get distributed up north). The Secret in Their Eyes gets a very solid ***+, though I’m still debating whether it does not in fact deserve ****. In any event, my mug is up.

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