Sunday, December 5, 2010

EMANCIPATION: a review of "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest"

Based upon the novel by Stieg Larsson
Screenplay Written by Ulf Rydberg and Jonas Frykberg
Directed by Daniel Alfredson

***1/2 (three and a half stars)

Noomi Rapace is a wonder!

As the lithe, moody, embattled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Rapace has created, over the course of three films, an embodiment of a literary character that is nothing less than definitive. In “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” Director Daniel Alfredson’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s final installment of his “Millennium trilogy,” all of Lisbeth’s demons rise to the surface and threaten to swallow her completely as she is awaiting trial for the three murders for which she was framed in the previous film. It is a provocative cauldron that boils over into not only a highly effective and involving thriller, but “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” is a enormously sweeping conclusion to an excellent film series.

Beginning mere moments after Lisbeth Salander’s brutal physical and psychological pummeling in the devastating climax of “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” we find our anti-heroine being whisked by helicopter to a hospital for an extended convalescence under the caring, watchful eye of Dr. Jonasson (Askel Morisse), as she awaits the aforementioned trial. As she heals, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (again strongly portrayed by Michael Nyqvist), is intensely attempting to devote the entirety of Millennium, his political magazine, to the support and full release of Lisbeth by bringing down the newly dubbed “The Sector,” a secretive alliance within Sweden’s secret police who has controlled a political conspiracy for the past 40 plus years.

Of course, with the hornet’s nest of corruption effectively and deeply disturbed, these now elderly, ailing criminals will not rest easily. Lisbeth and Blomkvist’s adversaries include, but are not limited to, the repellently insidious Dr. Peter Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom), who “cared” for Lisbeth during her pre-adolescent imprisonment at St. Stephen’s mental institution. Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), the silent, hulking blond assassin who carries a special bond with Lisbeth and Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), the Russian defector who is recovering in the same hospital as Lisbeth and also carries an even greater bond to her. As Blomkvist grows closer to revealing the truth, the walls of Lisbeth’s tragic life converge even tighter, threatening not only her long deserved emancipation from the stranglehold of the dark forces that have surrounded her life since childhood, but also her very survival.

If “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” were both brooding, intense explorations of exposition and tension, then “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” is provides an even more intense and excellent release. Alfredson, who also helmed the excellent previous installment, keeps the story flowing grimly and thoroughly, that by film’s end, no stone has been left unturned, all plot threads have been effectively completed, and I left the theater wanting for nothing more as I had been deeply satisfied. In addition to being an expertly conceived and executed journalistic thriller, aided by some of the strongest and most realistic usages of computer technology I have seen in the movies, the film (and the series as a whole) functions greatly as a societal meditation on vengeance, imprisonment, freedom, survival, and the obsessions that compel and drive us. Yet, for this final chapter, what struck me was the film’s themes of fragility, empathy and one’s self-perceived sense of weakness that occurs when asking for and receiving help.

Over the course of two films, we have been given a front row seat into Lisbeth’s dark life and how she has been endlessly manipulated and controlled by one sinister guiding force after another. Her survival instincts have obviously remained strong as she has been forced to burrow deeply within herself to discover (and sometimes re-invent) levels of resiliency and resolve just to successfully circumvent her stream of tormentors. What has been most remarkable about Lisbeth Salander is her ability to retain a sense of morality and justice. Even when she is at her most unforgiving, she somehow possesses restraint and a certain unwillingness to cross certain boundaries.

In “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” Lisbeth is incapacitated, first in a hospital and secondly inside a prison cell, and forced to receive as much assistance as she is able, a situation she is understandably unaccustomed, and especially not the dogged determination of Blomkvist, her obvious soul mate within this saga. It may be an odd suggestion to say that for a film series this violent, sadistic and severe, “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” also, and surprisingly, functions as a love story! Finally, there are others to rally around Lisbeth, to elicit protection and provide solace from her doctor, who consistently keeps the authorities at bay; Annika (Annika Hallin), her steadfast attorney, to Plague (Tomas Kohler), an underground computer hacker who receives and distributes crucial information to Blomkvist, and the staff of Millennium, with Blomkvist leading the crusade. All of these characters exist to provide Lisbeth with a societal counterpoint to the only life she has known. They all serve to open a window into a new world of tolerance, especially as Lisbeth (and the audience) has been given a window into a world where the cycle of abuse is not simply internal but institutionalized.

To save and to allow oneself to be saved is the lifeline between Lisbeth and Blomkvist and it has made for one of the most powerfully heartfelt screen duos in recent years. As I stated in my reviews of the previous films, for two actors who barely share any scenes together, the twosome strike a profoundly moving connection with each other. After seeing patches of her disturbing history in the previous two films, the full and complete arc of Lisbeth Slander is revealed in this act and Rapace’s performance is nothing short of remarkable. If she were eligible to receive an Oscar nomination for her work, it would be a highly deserved form of recognition and I cannot express my admiration for her enough. Rapace accomplishes a world of emotions by actually doing so very little! Remember, for most of “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” she is out of action, either tucked away for rehabilitation in a hospital or awaiting trial in a cell. That said, she is no passive hand-wringer either as her mind is blazingly clear and racing to figure out ways to keep her head above water, especially as her inner demons threaten to engulf her. Oh but when she arrives for the film’s courtroom sequence in the film’s final third, dressed to the hilt in full S&M leather garbed regalia, she is armed for the battle of her life and the sight is electrifying!

Yet for all of the attention Rapace is receiving for her work, I would hate for the performance of Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist to go unnoticed as it is indeed the less flashy role. Nyqvist coveys the absolute definition of “rock steady” as he embodies the type of hero I would think that any one of us would love to have in our corners on our respective behalves. He is thorough and obsessive in his pursuits to the point of being nearly devotional. And like Rapace, Nyqvist never overplays one moment. His silences and lack of histrionics draw you in, desiring to see the inner workings of this virtuous individual. Yes, Liam Neeson is a good choice for the American remakes being helmed by Director David Fincher, but for me, Michael Nyqvist has created a screen version of a literary character that is as equally definitive as Rapace’s. The two are beautifully symbiotic.

And now, the trilogy is complete and what a pleasure it was to have had the opportunity to see all three original films within the space of a few months. For fans of the original novels and for complete novices to this enterprise like myself, I strongly urge you to go out support this series. I do realize that there may be some of you who are just not interested in foreign films and reading subtitles. I do understand the extra attention that places upon viewers when they simply want to be entertained with a good story. But, as I have stated before, that while I feel confident that Fincher just may be able to craft a great movie from this material, I just do not see the point when we already have three excellent features ready for anyone who is willing to watch them.

Yes, the American version(s) will have more recognizable actors, a much larger budget and potentially no subtitles but none of those elements can erase the cinematic gold we have here.

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