Monday, December 13, 2010

Angry Hornets

There's a point in one of the courtroom scenes in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2009, directed by Daniel Alfredson) where a ghost of a smile crosses Lisabeth Salander's face. It's at that point that she's won the game, the set, the match. Her courtroom opponents know it, too, and you can see the defeat dawn on them. It's a pretty satisfying close to the character's story arc.

As I was driving home from the theater, it occurred to me that this film is eerily similar to the Wikileaks saga currently playing out in the news. Blomkvist is certainly the same kind of egoist that Julian Assange appears to be, and his "bring the truth to light at all costs" attitude is the same. That which is evil shuns the light of day, and all that. I think I can guess where the late Stieg Larsson would have come down on the issue. This all recalls the destruction of Elliot Spitzer, as well. Who says these things are farfetched?

For all of that, this movie is kind of an anti-climax. It almost can't help but be an anti-climax, since its main narrative function within the trilogy is as a kind of summing up. It ties up the loose plot threads left dangling from the previous installments. It's also the entry in to the series where the characters are more or less set. We don't learn much more about either Lisabeth Salander or Mikael Blomkvist than we already knew from the previous films. This is unfortunate, I guess, given that the characters are the main reason to watch. Oh, we get a good deal more of both Blomkvist's editor/lover, Annika, and a LOT more of his sister, Erika. We also get another sympathetic male character in the doctor who treats Lisabeth for the wounds suffered at the end of the last movie, but it's not these characters who are of primary interest. Salander, who is the center of the movie, is kind of a cipher here. She has fewer lines than any lead character I can remember (fewer than Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior, fewer than Clint Eastwood in any given Man With No Name film). For that matter, as in the last film, Salander and Blomkvist don't share the screen together until the very end of the movie. In all, it's kind of awkward, actually, though given the final reconciliation between Salander and Blomkvist, maybe that's the point. Lisabeth is unused to receiving help, let alone help from a man, so one can sense the effort it takes her to express gratitude. Blomkvist, for his part, owes her his life, so he'll go to the ends of the Earth. Thankfully, this film chooses to forgo the first film's ridiculous sexual relationship between the two. Salander remains a defiantly queer, defiantly unconventional heroine to the last.

The story here resumes at the point where the previous movie ended. Lisabeth is recovering from her various wounds from the previous film (including a bullet in the head) while charges are brought against her for the attempted murder of her father, the monstrous Zalachenko. Meanwhile, her half-half brother, Neidermann, has eluded the law and lurks in the background, waiting for a chance to kill her, while Zalachenko's shadowy government handlers are conspiring to make sure that Salander is never believed when it comes to who is really behind everything. They expand that conspiracy to include Blomkvist when they realize that he has more information than they're comfortable with, the credibility to be believed, and the means to disseminate it through his Millennium magazine. To this end, they attempt to rig her trial. Meanwhile, Blomkvist is contacted by another element of the government who are investigating the secret cabal who ran Zalachenko. It all comes to a head in the courtroom, where Salander's former psychiatric abuser, the monstrous Dr. Teleborian, makes his case that she needs to be remanded back to his sanitarium for the criminally insane.

I think the mistake that these movies make, after the first one, is that they personalize the thriller. The first one featured an impersonal mystery, and it was by far the most satisfying of the three. As an example: this is what you would get if Holmes's brother Mycroft was the secret controller of Professor Moriarty. It's a paranoid's fantasy, and it hurts the movies.

Noomi Rapace remains the reason to see the movie. She does more with less in this movie than any actress I can think of, and that ghost of a smile I described is just the tip of the iceberg. When she fences with the prosecutor, you can sense both a formidable intellect and a barely veiled contempt for her accusers. Michael Nyqvist is fine as Blomkvist, but I can see any number of actors in his role (Daniel Craig, scheduled for the Americanized version, seems as good a fit as anyone). Rapace, on the other hand, makes the role her own. When she's on screen, you can't take your eyes off of her. I pity any actress who attempts the part in the future. Rapace sets an almost impossibly high standard.

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