With the final film in the Millenium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, just hitting theaters in the U.S., Mystery Scene looks back at our ongoing series commentary of the Swedish films.
The Girls Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2009, Sweden)
If Stieg Larsson had lived, who knows which direction his novels about punk hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist would take.
Certainly the late Swedish author left a magnificent legacy in his three novels, which have been recreated, as faithfully as possible, in three outstanding movies.
The film version of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, directed by Daniel Alfredson, has just been released in American movie houses.
It also follows the standards set by the other movies in this series—taking a brilliant, yet flabby novel, paring it down to a tight, brisk-paced film that captures the nuances and spirit of Larsson’s trilogy.
It's not often that the movie version is equal to, or in some cases, better than the novels. But each of the movies has achieved this. Mainly because each of Larsson's novels could have used a good editor. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is 576 pages; it would have been a stronger novel it had been 450 pages.
At 2 hours, 28 minutes, the film The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is still a bit long, but the plot holds up so well that it moves briskly, even with English subtitles.
The movies work mainly because the superb performances by the leads—Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander and Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist. The chemistry is no less charged in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest even thought the two share little screen time and Lisbeth is confined to her hospital room for a good portion.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest picks up immediately after The Girl Who Played With Fire. Lisbeth is being whisked via a helicopter to a hospital after being shot in the head by her father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), a former Soviet spy turned sex trafficker with powerful friends in the upper echelons of Swedish government. Lisbeth seriously wounded, but didn't kill, Zalachenko with an axe.
Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace).
As Blomkvist tries to find proof of a government conspiracy that sent Salander to a psychiatric hospital when she was 12 to cover up Zalachenko's existence, those in power try to have Lisbeth put away for good or, killed. They also want to stop Blomkvist and his team of journalists. Too many movers and shakers would be harmed if proof ever leaked of their trafficking in girls. Blomkvist has to find the evidence as Lisbeth is put on trial for attempted murder.
Meanwhile, the homicidal Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), Salander's half-brother, is on a killing spree.
Rapace continues her excellent performance. In the hospital cell, sans the usual swaddling of punk, black clothing, chains and spikes draped and impossibly high platform boots, Rapace shows Lisbeth's vulnerability and intelligence. But Rapace delivers Lisbeth's fierceness and her rage when she puts on that punk armor for the courtroom scenes. Lisbeth is in high Dragon girl mode, ready to do battle against evil. Once again, she's a solider fighting against men who harm women and this is her uniform.
Larsson had planned The Girl With as a series of 10 novels. Meanwhile, we'll have to settle for the three brilliant novels and the movies that capture their spirit.
I'm trying to ignore the fact that these movies will be refilmed with Hollywood actors.
As for the novels, they continue to have a life of their own. On November 26, Knopf will publish a boxed set of Larsson's three hardover novels and a nonfiction book called On Stieg Larsson that is a new volumne of correspondence with the author and essays about his work.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: Rated R; Run time 148 minutes. In Swedish with English subtitles.
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The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009, Sweden)
Think of the movie version of The Girl Who Played With Fire as the Cliff’s Notes version of the late Stieg Larsson’s second novel. But unlike the Cliff’s Notes guides that seldom get to the heart of a novel, this movie pretty much includes all you need to know about Larsson’s sprawling novel. The character nuances, the plot twists, and the vivid setting show up on film.
No, it doesn’t take the place of reading the novel. But the movie will let those who have never read the books know why it seems as if everyone you see is carrying a Larsson novel. For those of us who read and loved the novels, this second film complements the books.
The Girl Who Played With Fire continues the story of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and the brilliant, goth girl hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). Blomkvist’s magazine, Millennium, is working with a young journalist and a criminologist on a story about the sex-trafficking trade in Sweden. Through their research, the two have discovered that the ring includes some of Sweden’s highest ranked politicians, cops and law makers.
The pair are murdered and a gun containing Lisbeth’s fingerprints is found. That same weapon is linked to a third death. Lisbeth becomes Sweden’s most wanted fugitive. The police convinced of her guilt because of her violent background that has been well documented by the courts. Blomkvist is equally convinced of her innocence. Lisbeth may be violent, antisocial and hard to read. But, he knows that men who abuse women would be her target, not a journalist and criminologist working to expose sex traffickers. Although she dropped him from her life without reason and has refused all contact, Blomkvist remains loyal to Lisbeth. Separately, Blomkvist and Lizbeth work to prove her innocence and find the real killer.
Millenium editor-in-chief Mikael Blomkvist played by Michael Nyqvist.
The film moves briskly without the sometimes bloated scenes of the novel. While Larsson’s novel was, at times, sprawling, to say the least, the movie is a lean, tightly focused action film.
Many reviewers have commented on how the Larsson’s first novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, worked as a locked room mystery; this section as a private detective novel and the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, as a spy thriller. The movie certainly concentrates on The Girl Who Played With Fire’s private detective elements. It is not necessary to have read the novel to follow the film. The friend who accompanied me had not read any of the novels – though she is now starting on the first—and was able to follow the story. Although there are a couple of variations from the novel—and NO spoilers here—the movie is faithful to the story.
What’s left out of the movie is what should have have been left out of the book. The long opening that takes place in the Caribbean here is a scene of Lisbeth packing with the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean in the background. Instead of a long shopping trip, we just see Lisbeth putting together a chair from Ikea. And there was no way to work in her fascination with a mathematician. A few other plot points also missing from the film were wise choices by the filmmakers.
Noomi Rapace plays series protagonist Lisbeth Salander.
Noomi Rapace continues to enthrall as Lisbeth, showing every bit of the hacker’s strength, vulnerability, intelligence, naivete, rage, her moral fiber and a chameleon’s ability to adapt. Lisbeth is a survivor and, as she did in the first movie, Rapace understands this character’s complexity.
Michael Nyqvist is Rapace’s equal. His quest for the truth is unwavering as are his compassion and kindness. His hurt and confusion after Lisbeth abandoned him is palpable, but it will not stop him from helping her. (Another female reviewer and I were talking after and we both agreed that for some reason Michael Nyqvist is much sexier in a rugged way in this movie than in the first. And, no, that photo above doesn’t do him justice.)
The Girl Who Played With Fire movie is a perfect complement to the novels. Now, I’m looking forward to the third movie, which is scheduled to be released later this year.
The Girl Who Played With Fire: Rated R; run time 129 minutes. In Swedish with English subtitles.
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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009, Sweden)
I had hoped—and I admit this was a futile hope—that Hollywood might decide not to redo The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies based on Stieg Larsson's very fine novels.
After all, the Swedish movies based on these novels have set a high standard already. I can't imagine any actress bringing as much depth and nuance to the role of goth, girl hacker Lisbeth Salander as Noomi Rapace. This Swedish actress is just one reason why the movies based on Larsson's novels have been so good. The third Swedish movie, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest, is set to be released in December 2010.
The other reason is Michael Nyqvist, as journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Nyqvist has brought a thoughtful approach to this role.
But it appears that Hollywood is bound and determined to remake the movies with "known" actors.
But maybe I will be all right with who will be cast as Mikael Blomkvist.
That would be British actor Daniel Craig. Yep, the newest James Bond. 007. License to thrill.
I think I could live with Daniel Craig in this role. Actually, I can live with Daniel Craig in just about any role.
And director David Fincher also is an inspired choice. The director of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button also has shown he gets dark themes with his movies Zodiac, Panic Room, Fight Club and Seven. Fincher's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is being planned for December 2011.
While Daniel Craig will no doubt do just fine in the remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I don't have as high hopes for the actresses who are being considered: Ellen Page, Mia Wasikowska, Emily Browning, Sara Snook, Rooney Mara and Sophie Lowe. Fine actress, but no Noomi Rapace.
The latest word indicates the producers are leaning toward an unknown actress, which would probably be the best choice of all.
UPDATE: Since this article was originally published in July 2010 at the MS Blog, actor Rooney Mara has been chose to play Lisbeth Salander in the US version slated for 2011.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Rated R; run time 152 minutes. In Swedish with English subtitles.