07 January 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Annika Hallin, left, and Noomi Rapace are shown in a scene from "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest."
Late in "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," Noomi Rapace, as Lisbeth Salander, the brilliant, misfit computer hacker recently recovered from taking a bullet to the brain, wrongly accused of three murders and abused throughout her life by officials within the Swedish government, cracks just a hint of a smile. There is nothing that speaks more to the greatness of Rapace's performance than the fact that this small moment, one that might go unnoticed by some viewers, serves as an emotional release for not just this film but the entire "Millennium" trilogy.

A young woman hardened by the hand life dealt her, Salander has gone to great lengths to guard not just the secrets of her past but the emotions of her day-to-day life. Her distrust extends beyond authority figures to include virtually everyone she meets. She doesn't have friends so much as a handful of people whose presence she can tolerate—but only in small doses and on her terms. She has been a victim, and more than anything, she wants those who prey on others—specifically, men who commit acts of violence toward women—to know what it means to be victimized.

For Rapace, it is an iconic, transformative performance. It has become a cliché to say an actor inhabits a role, but after months of training and a year and a half of filming these movies, that is what she has accomplished. She takes a character that could be seen as cartoonish on the page and turns her into a living, breathing heroine unlike any we have seen on the screen before. And she does it with very little dialogue. Never have I seen an actor say so much with silence; it is as if we can see her thinking. Her subtly expressive face is a special effect far superior to anything you will see in a "Transformers" movie.

As for the plot, "Hornet's Nest" picks up where the previous film, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" (which followed "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"; all three films are based on novels by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson) left off, with Salander, her body riddled with bullets, flown to a hospital and fighting for her life. Her father, the Russian gangster Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), whom she unsuccessfully tried to kill, lies in a hospital bed a few doors down the hall.

While Salander licks her wounds and awaits trial on three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, who has become something of an unsung hero in the series, despite being one of the leads) races to prove her innocence by delving deeper into the government conspiracy that protected Zalachenko and had Salander institutionalized and declared legally incompetent.

Though there is little action in the movie, director Daniel Alfredson and screenwriter Ulf Ryberg sustain the tension by spending less time with the many government bureaucrats and police investigators that fill so many pages of Larsson's book and more with the people we care about: Salander and Blomkvist. They cannot overcome completely the redundant, static nature of much of the novel, but they put up a good fight.

The "Millennium" trilogy and Rapace's stunning performance stands as one of the great cinematic achievements of the past few years. David Fincher and his Lisbeth Salander, Rooney Mara, have their work cut out for them; the American version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is scheduled to hit theaters in December.

Greg's Grade: A-

(Rated R for strong violence, some sexual material, and brief language. 147 minutes.)

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