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Cinema Signal: Subtitled Swedish film that is the finale of a trilogy. You are urged to go!


Dexter:
Seasons 1 to 3
See it from the start!
Killer value Blu-ray from Amazon)

. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (aka, "Luftslottet som spr„ngdes")

After introducing us to Lisbeth Salander, one of the most singular and captivating characters in crime fiction, as well as to one of the most corrupt examples of injustice any modern democracy ever suffered, author Steig Larsson, in the last of his three-part trilogy, pays it off with a hard-won dissolution of self appointed power. In this film adaptation of his work, initially intended for Swedish TV, director Daniel Alfredson and screenwriter Ulf Rydberg capture Larsson's magnificently dramatized quest for redemption.

Larsson's own title for his first book is "Men Who Hate Women," which affords some insight as to the theme he was writing about. Realising that this was not a title likely to sell books on the international market, it was changed by his wizardly American publisher to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Fascination with Salander doesn't derive solely from the fact that she was the victim of the secret government group that committed her to a mental institution at age twelve but, rather, from the very unique person she is. From the brilliance of her mind (computer whiz, math genius, photographic mind) it would be evident to anyone that she's no ordinary ward of the state. Not with all that brainpower plus the determination to use it in order to defeat the cabal that still holds her life in its hand. Having made herself wealthy during the Blomkvist-Wennerstom scandal, her mission is to be released from illegal bondage and from the grasp of her arch nemesis, the nazi-like Dr. Peter Teleborian.

In this final installment, she's been rescued (on the teeter-hook that ended part two, "The Girl Who Played With Fire") by her principle benefacter and one-time lover, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) suffering a bullet in the brain during a near-death bout with her father Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) and half-brother Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), we're immediately drawn back into the tension as she's medevaced by helicopter to the hospital. As soon as she's recovered, however, she's to face imprisonment pending her trial on three counts of murder. To be found guilty is to be returned to her bleak destiny of a drugged state and electro-shock treatment administered by sociopathic Dr. Teleborian.

(In the book, her would-be murderer and father Zalachenko is recoverying in a room two doors away from hers. This highly dramatic episode was cut from the film version, obviously for time considerations--giving us a hint of the depth of drama contained in the original source.)

Having shown the extent of her suffering at the hands of political monsters protecting their Russian spy and psychopathic wife-batterer, Zalachenko, it's time, now, that she's favored by some people who understand the gross injustice of her situation. Blomkvist, chief among her champions, continues his investigation despite threats upon his life to meet a deadline for an issue of his magazine that will lay the conspiratorial government group bare and, most of all, influence the outcome of the trial and vindicate her from blame. He convinces his sister Annika Giannini (Annika Hallin), an attorney, to represent the uncooperative, unpredictable Salander who won't trust anyone working within the system that had so damaged her under a veil of mental instability.

It's only with some difficulty that Lisbeth understands when someone is helping her and, when hospital physician Dr. Jonasson (Aksel Mirisse) heads off a visit by Teleborian, and extends her treatment beyond her recovery to grant her a few more days of freedom, and allows her a cellphone from Blomkvist, she can hardly deny that she has another understanding ally. Gratitude isn't part of her emotional vocabulary, but she does come through with a nod of acceptance.

As the bad guys understand that they are on the brink of exposure, they get edgy and dangerous, desperate to protect their secrecy. They wonder how much Blomkvist could possibly know about their operation. They tap his phones, break into his apartment to steal the only extant police report that could damage their case, and finally resort to threats and violence upon him and his staff. This leads to Blomkvist's Millennium partner and part-time lover Erika Berger (Lena Endre) postponing the publication of the special edition until after the trial.

When our heroine makes her appearance at trial with her body piercings, in leathers and a mohawk hairdo, she's clearly our under-estimated, disrespected girl--the picture of rebelliousness, and we root for her like she just beat the buzzer and won the game.

Rapace's performance in all this isn't likely to be outdone by anyone who may be cast for the American version of the trilogy (Sony will produce it with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in the starring roles--due late 2011). It's hard to imagine, even, being equaled, but you never know. With Larsson's estate having earned $15 million in the past year for his books and film royalties, Sony correctly perceives that there's still much revenue potential in an English language production that will find a much larger audience for this exceptional story than could any subtitled film.

Rapace is the embodiment of Salander--morose, flinty, testy, emotionally bottled up, unforgiving, single-minded, always surprising and intellectually spirited. These traits won't always be evident to someone who hasn't seen the previous two films of the trilogy, but the pleasures from this figure await you. What I await is her nomination for the Best Actress Oscar.

Nykvist is her opposite. He's ideal as the plodding journalist who is so channelled on a case of such unjust proportions and puts his fears aside. What adds to the brilliance of the actor and the work itself is that he makes credible a man who can live with what amounts to a steady dose of rejection (by Salander) and fight with fierce doggedness for her freedom--a rather rare relationship in film. It's not your classic romance.

A role that belongs in the super-villain category--the monster who can't be crushed--belongs to Micke Spreitz, a formidable creature who silently kills those who cross his path. Seemingly indestructible of the slasher-movie variety, incapable of feeling pain of any kind, he lingers on the sidelines, until the inevitable confrontation with his half-sister and worst enemy--Salander. Once she steps into his hideout, it's pure terror. Agile and physically underestimated as Lisbeth is, life or death swings in the balance until she finds her adversary's Achilles' heel if, indeed, he has one.

If this segment of the overall story seems dryly narrative compared to the previous two, it's from the detailing of the secret group's unraveling, and is true to the book in that regard. "Hornet's Nest" goes on for page after page of each member of the cabal (the "Hornet's Nest" of the title) and how it was put together and took hold in the shadows of two administrations.

My guess is that this enumeration of evil was the heart of the message Larsson wanted to convey to his Swedish audience, for which he developed such dynamic characters. For the movie, of course, much of it is compressed and leads to a more succinct mystery drama. Suspense builds as each man who believed in their own correctness at the expense of morality and balance suffers exposure and imprisonment. It's a big part of the tension element as they, one by one, meet final justice.

In reaching the third and final movie of the series I feel as I did when I went through the books. Never had I felt as much anticipation for a work of printed fiction, nor for the series of films that retains so much faithfulness to it. I said hurrah for the books; I say hurrah for the movies. And most of all, I say hurrah to Larsson for the extraordinary scope of his accomplishment and legacy.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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