Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes)

During the course of this Swedish film trilogy, as the quality level has sharply declined, the one thing we've been able to rely on has been Noomi Rapace, whose star-making performance as Lisbeth Salander has often been the only element holding these shoddy productions together. Rapace is an actress who draws the viewers' attention at all times, bringing a quiet watchfulness and remoteness to her damaged, distrustful character, and making Lisbeth tough, resourceful and vulnerable as the role demands. Whenever Stieg Larsson's plot gets too silly – and it does get very silly – Rapace keeps the movie focused, providing it with a central protagonist who keeps us hooked on a deeper level than the flabby narrative can reach. All of which makes it utterly dismaying that the third and final film adapted from Larsson's Millenium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, gives its most prized asset so little to do. In fact, she spends most of this extremely long and utterly boring film sitting down.

Those who have followed the story up to this point will already know why Lisbeth is in such an inactive state. At the end of The Girl Who Played With Fire, she was shot, beaten and buried alive by her father (Georgi Staykov) and hulking half-brother (Micke Spreitz, still a ludicrous figure), before rising from beneath the earth like an avenging angel to attack her dad with a axe. The film closed with Lisbeth being carted away from the scene in an ambulance, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest picks up from that point, as she slowly recovers in hospital and finds out that she is facing a murder charge. Her only ally remains Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the dogged investigative journalist determined to prove Lisbeth's innocence and to unmask the criminal conspiracy that wants to shut them both up.

This setup turns Lisbeth into a frustratingly passive figure, and the fact that she and Mikael are once more kept apart for the whole movie negates the relationship that was a key strength behind the series' first and best instalment, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Without that tension between the likable, lovelorn writer and the mysterious loner, the subsequent two films have felt unbalanced and lethargic, which suggests that Niels Arden Oplev, director of the first picture, was wise to hand over the reins when he did. His successor Daniel Alfredson has completely failed to juice up the inferior material at his disposal with any kind of cinematic verve. Under his direction, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest have been drab and sluggish ordeals, and whenever Alfredson attempts to enliven matters with an action scene, he botches it through some desperately unimaginative staging (I groaned inwardly when a woman pushing a pram walked out in front of a speeding police car).

Essentially, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is nonsense, and it's often quite distasteful nonsense, with the majority of male characters being potential rapists and paedophiles (Lisbeth is accused of harbouring "grotesque fantasies" at one point, which seems an apt description of the film). I found it impossible to maintain any interest in the film as it crawled towards its meaningless conclusion – even the comparatively enjoyable final ten minutes failed to suck me back in – and instead my thoughts turned towards the forthcoming American screen versions of Larsson's books. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which is surprisingly being directed by David Fincher) is already in production, and depending on that film's success, the two sequels will surely follow. Will they provide a more consistently engrossing production, or will they be hobbled by the structural deficiencies and clumsy plot twists that are presumably ingrained in Larsson's novels? I have to say, I'm cautiously optimistic. The American films won't have the indelible presence of Noomi Rapace, but aside from that, there's room for improvement in every single department.