Monday, October 25, 2010
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
A girl-power revenge fantasy that sounds good in theory but hasn’t played out so well in practice, especially onscreen, Stieg Larsson’s Girl With … series ran out of steam way before it ended. I liked the first book, and the movie Niels Arden Oplev made of it, well enough and wanted to like the rest, but halfway through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third and final film, I just wanted to shoot the poor thing and put it out of its misery.
Oplev says he decided not to direct the two sequels because the studio’s rushed schedule didn’t leave him time to do justice to more than one. Besides, as he noted, the first book was the best of the three, more character-driven and complex than the others. So it’s not entirely – maybe not even mostly – director Daniel Alfredson’s fault that the next two films in the series are so lifeless. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a little better than The Girl Who Played with Fire, but only in the sense that catching a cold is better than having the flu.
Hornet’s Nest opens with a clumsily staged massacre (Lisbeth Salander’s creepazoid brother kills a couple of cops) that reminded me of a ‘60s-era martial arts movie. You know the ones I mean, where the hero goes up against five or six bad guys at once and defeats them easily – because they obligingly hang back at the edge of the frame, watching their brothers get killed one by one before rushing in single file to meet their own fates.
But conjuring up the style and energy of those Hong Kong chop-sockies just makes this film feel even flatter. While Oplev’s movie condensed the first book’s complicated narrative neatly and kept the tension growing, Alfredson’s are repetitive, clumsily paced, and visually bland. Lurching between bursts of melodrama and long periods of undramatic exposition, they’re the cinematic equivalent of the books’ clunky prose and uneven plotting.
Hornet’s Nest doesn’t even tell us much of anything new, recycling facts unearthed in first two books. It feeds these to us on two parallel tracks: the story Larsson alter-ego Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is preparing for Millenium magazine to clear Lisbeth’s reputation and Lisbeth’s seemingly interminable trial on murder charges trumped up by the cabal of evil white men who keep conspiring to keep her down.
The biggest shocks come from the DVD Lisbeth recorded in the first film of her rape by her guardian. I thought that scene was justified, hard as it was to watch, because violence against women was the story’s subject, so showing a brutal example or two felt appropriate, perhaps even necessary. But this movie’s replaying of snippets of the same tape didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, so it felt different – more about exploiting than exposing violence against women.
Noomi Rapace, who plays Lisbeth, came off a little too obviously vulnerable in the other two, depending too much on her clothes and makeup – including that much-fetishized tattoo – to convey the hard-won attitude that encases Lisbeth in the book. But this time she earns the rave reviews she’s been getting all along. Her ebony eyes as hard and flat as stones, she emits a near-palpable force field that keeps everyone at arm’s length. She looks stronger than ever physically, too, maybe because we see her work her way back into shape after a severe injury, training like a boxer preparing for a fight – or like The Bride in Kill Bill.
Unfortunately for her, Rapace won’t get a do-over with a better director. But the rest of us will when the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes out next year. Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac, the Social Network) excels at dramatizing obsessive investigations, intellectual torment, and physical hardships, and his star, Rooney Mara, was convincing and compelling as a strong-willed young woman in The Social Network. Maybe they’ll give us the Lisbeth Salander story we’ve been waiting for.
Written for TimeOFF