Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

If you've been to an indie theater or maybe one likely to show foreign films, you've probably seen the poster for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, one of my nominees for poster of the year. It's a simple subversion of the generic headshot/main character poster. It just consists of a headshot of the titular girl, albeit with a massive number of piercings, spikes necklaces and probably the biggest mohawk I've seen outside of a Mad Max movie. If nothing else, it catches your attention and sets the tone for the movie as a whole.

The problem with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (and The Girl Who Played With Fire) is that the shock from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is hard to top. Tattoo was such a thing-from-another-world that it was hard to wrap our heads around it's characters and it's world. It was such a unique and weird creature and no sequel could live up to that shock. There's also the fact that since Tattoo, the series has only gotten sillier.

Permit me to qualify that statement. Tattoo was an extremely normal, extremely grounded murder mystery that began and ended in it's own movie. Very straightforward. Hornet's Nest and Played With Fire on the other hand are mostly devoted to a giant overarching conspiracy including secret government agencies, defecting KGB agents and semi-crazy psychiatrists. At the center, shockingly enough, is Lisbeth Salander, who is on trial for the attempted murder of her father in the last one. She apparently knows too much about...something, it's never abundantly clear, and thus the conspiracy is putting all it's efforts towards putting her in jail, like she's Jack Bauer at the end of a season of 24.

Meanwhile a B-Plot devoted to Lisbeth's half-brother killing people across the country because...again, not made very clear. It doesn't matter much, the B-Plot doesn't intrude on the main plot in any meaningful way until the last 20 minutes, which ends up being one of the major issues. Much of the plot is left dangling without ever getting explained. Why is the conspiracy so dead set on silencing Lisbeth? Why is her half-brother murdering his way across Sweden towards Lisbeth? Why doesn't the conspiracy just shoot her? The movie never bothers to explain, and as such much of the plot is unsatisfying.

What's irritating is most of the plot seems to have been trimmed to make room for an extended court room sequence which seems to try and be extremely true to real life. Now my father is a lawyer, so I know a little about law, so I know it can be intensely fascinating. I know that it can also be deeply boring, often times at the same time. As such, basing the entire second half of your film around an extended court room scene intercut with the actions of some of the other characters was...not the best idea.

There are bright spots. The cinematography and mood building are still good. Lisbeth is still a fascinating character and Noomi Rapace still does an exceptional job playing her. All of the dialogue is well written and it manages to be actually suspenseful, even when it's not being particularly coy about how the case is going to turn out.

But I'm not sure if they're enough to overcome it's flaws. I've yet to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (I'm most of the way through Tattoo, interrupted by my ongoing attempt to finish Twilight) but a lot it reeks of poor adaptation. Tattoo succeeded by slicing off all the extraneous subplots and characters to deliver a streamlined version of the main story, allowing them to focus on the interesting characters of Lisbeth and Mikael and they're evolving relationship. But in this one, as in the last one, much of the subplots remain, albeit mangled and they make the movie feel half finished and unedited.

So the Millennium trilogy has drawn to a close, and while The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is easily the weakest of them (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is STILL my best movie of the year and it looks like it might just hold onto that title), it remains a fascinating movie, and I can't fully say you should avoid it. Don't rush right out and see it, but when it hits DVD, I'd recommend giving it a look. Between this trilogy and Let the Right One In, Sweden has been putting out some interesting movies lately, so it looks like they're a country to keep an eye on.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd like someone who speaks Swedish to settle a bet: Is Rapace pronounced Ra-pace or Ra-pa-ce?

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