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"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is still playing at the Charles while "The Girl Who Played With Fire" settles in for a long run. I prefer the second film and its new director, Daniel Alfredson. "Fire" is swifter and earthier, and it applies a more glancing touch than "Tattoo" did to violence and torture. It conveys its characters' pain and hurtles on. When Stieg Larsson wrote his Millennium Trilogy, he created, in Lisbeth Salander, a woman warrior who forges her strength in a horror-story crucible of emotional and physical abuse. This movie uncovers the roots of her agony while pushing her prowess as a hacker and a kickboxing sleuth to the limit. Noomi Rapace continues to embody her to perfection. And Michael Nyqvist again brings a warm, weathered charisma to the role of her loving ally, middle-aged investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist. There's also a particularly scary thug: a huge, square-cut, bleached-blond brute who, because of congenital analgesia, can't feel pain. (He's like a serious version of Richard Kiel's "Jaws" character in the Bond movies.)

As you follow the trilogy, in its book or movie forms, you realize that in addition to voicing passionate condemnations of "men who hate women," novelist Larsson was using Blomkvist and Salander to put the untold history of 20th-century Sweden into thriller form. The first film focuses on Swedish Nazis; the second hinges on deals cut with a defecting Soviet spy. Screenwriter Jonas Frykberg uses fresh details from Larsson's novels to fill out both the intimate and the big pictures. In retrospect, why should American art house-goers and book-buyers have been surprised at the extent of Swedish Nazism depicted in "Dragon Tattoo?" Ingmar Bergman himself once said that as a kid he was a fan of Hitler -- and he only stopped being a Nazi sympathizer when he learned about the concentration camps.

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So it's a relief, in all senses of the word, to see, in "Played With Fire," a Jewish detective, Jan Bublanski (Johan Kylen), upset a fellow congregant when he gets an emergency call in a synagogue. (That's Kylen, left, and Nyqvist, right, in a scene from the film, above.) It's a combination of setting and comic-dramatic content you don't often get in Swedish movies.

Have you seen both films? Which do you prefer? Isn't it often the case that second films in a series are better? I'd pick "From Russia With Love" over "Dr. No," and the the second X-Men and Spider-Man movies over the first ones. Would you?

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