Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Review of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Alfredson, 2009)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2009)
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Annika Hallin, Anders Ahlbom

The politically-outspoken Stieg Larsson left this world in a blaze of controversy, but his legacy remains a lasting one. His Millennium Trilogy has gained a massive fanbase, some awards attention, and has even been successful enough to get David Fincher on board for an American remake of the franchise, as Hollywood inevitably cashes in on the popularity of the books themselves. Many have been captivated by the exploits of his heroine Lisbeth Salander; her troubled past and volatile present, and it looks as if we’ll have to endure more of the girl for a few years yet. If rumours are to be believed, there’ll also be a fourth book (there were originally intended to be ten), penned by Larsson’s long-term partner, Eva Gabrielsson, and directly following on from the relatively open-ended “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” For now, however, this film represents the culmination of Salander’s tumultuous relationship with men.

Even those who are indifferent towards the first two installments will find Hornet’s Nest required viewing – given that it sews up a lot of the girl’s incurred wounds. “The Girl who Played with Fire” left Lisbeth bloodied and bruised after being shot in the head by her father, who she then attempted to kill with an axe. While both lie in hospital, a Soviet spy ring worry that the secrets of Lisbeth’s past will be revealed to the world by Mikael Blomkvist’s magazine “Millennium,” and endeavour to put a stop to the people that stand in their way. Lisbeth herself must cope with an impending ‘attempted murder’ trial, and the emergence of Dr. Peter Teleborian, the murky figure who oversaw her stay at a mental institution at the age of twelve.

Divulging all of the key plot details would probably need a handbook in itself, but many of the events in the narrative all serve a similar purpose. It’s well documented that this series of books was intended to be titled “For Women who Hate Men,” and that would certainly have been apt. You can count on one hand the number of positive male characters in all three films combined. Not content with having plagued Lisbeth with an abusive father, a sadistic serial killer, and a rapist for a Legal Guardian, “Hornet’s Nest” dredges up the paedophile doctor who kept her strapped to a hospital bed for over a year. The film demonises the doctor as a sinister, evil liar, and does so to once again extricate sympathy for its weary heroine, who you feel has had to put up with far too much by the time the courtroom scenes roll around. From the aged villains involved in the conspiracy during her childhood, to the stilted lawyers who oppose her, the film acts as a final, determined effort to make the white male seem as thoroughly corrupt and sub-human a species as is fully possible. This might be a film intent on flaunting the abilities of its principal female character, but it victimises her through sexuality rather than empowers her through it, and shies away from considering the ambiguities within her thought process. In making her a statement of subculture “Hornet’s Nest” strips her of identity, and has more in common with fascism than feminism.

While finely-paced and staunchly faithful to its literary roots, it’s difficult to accept much of what happens in “Hornet’s Nest” as credible crime writing. None of the issues involving Blomkvist and his magazine are particularly insightful or interesting, and the creative decisions often lean towards cartoonish depictions of villainy. Lisbeth’s brother, for instance, has a disorder which means he cannot feel pain, and proceeds to roam the wilderness Michael Myers-style, killing everyone and everything in sight before returning to enact some form of family vengeance in the film’s clumsy final act. In many ways, “Hornet’s Nest” is a subdued epilogue to the events that have gone on before it, devoid of real intensity beyond the trial scenes, and overwhelmed by the sprawling impression that the characters are picking up the pieces. If all ten books were to be completed and adapted, this would more likely serve as one of the fillers of the series, tying up exposition and achieving relative equilibrium, before it’s ready to introduce another callous male antagonist.

Too much of the film’s genuine drama either stems from relaying events in its heroine’s past, or creating overtly-shocking displays of sexuality and violence. “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” has a propensity towards displaying violence as both a poison and an antidote, dangerously promoting vengeance as a quenching cure for bitterness. The previously-interesting Blomkvist becomes a fairly moot figure, and the dynamic between he and Lisbeth is more frayed and uncertain here than in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl who Played with Fire”. Regardless of its hard-hitting techniques, this latest addition to Scandinavian crime-drama falls on the wrong side of ugly, and more unforgivably is the dullest part of what, for now, remains a trilogy.

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