‘Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played With Fire’
Playing in the World Cinema Documentary competition of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 95 minutes; in Swedish with subtitles. Next screenings: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 8:30 a.m., Prospector Square Theatre, Park City; Friday, 10 p.m., Redstone Cinema 2, Park City; Saturday, Feb. 2, 11:30 a.m., Egyptian Theatre, Park City.
The documentary “Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played With Fire” feels like a missed opportunity, a movie that focuses on one aspect of the late author’s work — his journalistic research into Sweden’s dangerous far-right groups — that doesn’t connect that work enough to his famous “Millennium” thrillers.
Before he created the anti-social hacker Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Larsson worked as a journalist and graphic designer in his native Sweden. He founded an anti-racist magazine, Expo, where he and a ragtag staff aimed to expose right-wing extremism, first in Sweden and later worldwide. It was a thankless task, and sometimes a dangerous one; death threats were common, and in one instance his writers were targeted by a car bomb.
Larsson became the resident expert on the far right, writing a book, “The Extreme Right,” before turning to fiction. He appeared frequently on Swedish TV to expose extremism (the appearances provide a fair amount of the documentary’s footage). Ironically, though, the more Larsson exposed them, the more mainstream they became. One party Larsson investigated, Sweden Democrats, last year won seats in the Swedish Parliament.
Director Henrik Georgsson interviews friends and colleagues of Larsson, who died in 2004 of a heart attack that friends attribute to the stress brought on by his work. (He also ate badly and smoked, friends point out.)
Georgsson’s focus is predominantly on his journalism, with too-fleeting mentions of the fiction books that sold millions of copies and made him internationally famous. That’s a shame, since his work reporting on the far right obviously fueled “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series — it’s not for nothing that the other main character was a besieged magazine editor — and more analysis of those connections would made his crusade against neo-Nazis and other extremists more understandable.