Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Trilogy That Goes Out With a Bang

15 – 148mins – 2009
Screenplay by: Jonas Frykberg and Ulf Ryberg
Based on the best-selling novel by: Stieg Larsson
Directed by: Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Annika Hallin, Jacob Ericksson, Sofia Ledarp, Anders Ahlbom, Micke Spreitz, Georgi Staykov, Hans Alfredson, Lennart Hjulström, Jan Holmquist, Niklas Hjulström


[MAJOR SPOILERS] Having wrapped and been released in native Sweden over the course of last year, there are mere months between the UK's 2010 theatrical roll out of the Millennium trilogy, adapted from the phenomenal tomes penned by the late Stieg Larsson. Clearly Yellow Bird and Momentum Pictures decided to strike while the tattoo needle's hot, even going so far as to change director after The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, to speed up production.

But having become so utterly enraptured with the tragically gripping tale of untraditional heroine Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), even a couple of months is too long a wait for this CR@B. So when the opportunity arose to see an exclusive preview screening of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest – shown as part of the 30th Cambridge Film Festival – I jumped at the chance with both claws...

Picking up exactly where we left off, crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nvqvist) is still on his quest to prove that beleaguered, hospital-ridden Lisbeth – gunned down and buried alive in The Girl Who Played With Fire's tense conclusion – has been the live-long victim of a diabolical government cover-up to protect the identity of her Soviet-defecting brute of a father, Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov). Hiring his sister, Annika (Annika Hallin), to be Lisbeth's lawyer, it soon becomes clear that there are people out there who will go to dispicable lengths to keep the scandalous truth buried.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth's half-brother, the blond hulk Roland Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), is on the run having been found guilty of the triple murders which Lisbeth was previously suspected of – surely the terminator in goth's clothing won't let this monster just scamper into the shadows without retribution for his crimes? As the saga closer, loose end tie-er-upper – and with the source novel weighing in at a door-stopping 743 pages – there was certainly a lot for screenplay writers Jonas Fryberg and Ulf Ryberg to cram in to Hornets' Nest, even with 148minutes to play with.

This is not to say that Stieg Larsson’s periphrastic prose is followed religiously. Millennium Editor Erika Berger’s (Lena Endre) defection to mainstream newspaper Svenske Morgen-Posten, for instance, is completely ignored, while the resultant stalker subplot is modified and consumed into the grand story arc, with culpability shifting from an SMP co-worker to the shady “Section” pressuring Millennium into not publishing Lisbeth’s incriminating story.

It was a bold – and, in my opinion, favourable – alteration, which leads to a lot of scenes taking place at the base of operations; the oft-sidelined investigative magazine's offices. Indeed, it would have been a thoroughly successful revision had the link between the threats received by Erika, Mikael and Annika been better established. As it is, the less observant viewer may feel like this plotline merely trails off after Mikael asks Lisbeth’s hacker pal Plague (Tomas Köhler, looking like he has shed half his body weight after Dragon Tattoo, but still wearing the same clothes!!) to investigate.

But this trilogy has never been one to pander to the inattentive, and it is all the more successful for not dumbing down for the casual viewer. Many an in-joke or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sight reference reward the novel’s most anal fans (the overly expensive coffee machine on Lisbeth’s counter, her love of Billy’s Deep Pan Pizzas, etcetera), while the exponential plotting does a great job of referencing back to prior events. It is no wonder the films were expanded and split into a six episode serial in Sweden: they are but parts of a greater whole.

Whereas the previous instalment did occasionally fall into the adaptation pothole of zipping from one information-crammed scene to another without feeling like a sinuous entity, the same cannot be said for this latest film, which grips you from the hospital-based opening, building upon Stieg's intricate characterisation and playing with your anxieties, morals and humanity until it hits the trilogy pay-off of the courthouse crescendo: Salander versus the system. If you don't want to “whoop!” when Lisbeth struts into the courtroom then this isn't the saga for you.

Hornets’ Nest’s pacing is relentless, and the film never drags, despite its duration. It really doesn’t feel like over two and a half hours when Mikael knocks on Lisbeth’s door in the trilogy’s final scene. What is left unsaid is far more powerful than the pleasantries they exchange in Lisbeth’s doorway, and I was desperately willing the pair to fall into each other’s arms. That they don’t give in to the cliché of a happy ending is far more resonant, but it does leave me gagging for the rumoured fourth instalment in the literary series to see the light of day, regardless of how far Stieg got before his untimely death.

In a CR@B Shell: Justice has been served to Stieg’s legacy with this intense, absorbing and high-octane thriller: Hornets’ Nest is a pacey power-punch of a final chapter which leaves you gasping for more. It is hard to see how Hollywood ’s impending remake can improve upon this quintessential exposé.

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