The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprangdes)


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Lisbeth Salander contemplates her disdain for society.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Aksel Morisse, Mikael Spraetz, Georgi Staykov, Annika Hallin, Jacob Ericksson, Sofia Ledarp, Mirja Turestedt, Niklas Falk, Hans Alfredson, Lennart Hjulstrom.  Directed by Daniel Alfredson

When caught in between a rock and a hard place, your choices are generally limited. No matter what you do, you’re going to get bruised and maybe even squashed. Your best choice of action might just be to attack the rock.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is in a hospital bed, a bullet lodged in her brain following the events in The Girl Who Played with Fire. She is recovering but now she is being charged with attempted murder. The police want very much to talk to her but Dr. Jonasson (Morisse), who is her physician, forbids anyone but her lawyer, Annika Giannini (Hallin) – who is also the sister of Millennium publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) – from visiting.  

In the meantime, Evert Gulberg (H. Alfredson) and Frederik Clinton (Hjulstrom), old comrades from The Section, a loose group of operatives in the Swedish Security Service who have operated on a quasi-legal basis, meet and decide that in order to protect their group, Salander will have to die, as well as her father, Alexander Salachenko (Staykov), who lies in a hospital bed a few rooms down from Salander, recovering from the wounds at her hands.

Gulberg, who’s dying of cancer, is elected to do it. He kills Salachenko in his bed, then tries to get to Salander’s room but Giannini, who was visiting her client, bars the door and Gulberg can’t get to her. He sits down on a nearby stool and shoots himself in the head.

Blomkvist is planning to publish an expose just before Salander’s trial in order to tell her side of the story and throw the light of day on the murky figures who have opposed her. The Section is none too pleased about either and put plans in motion to discredit Blomkvist and have Salander committed to the mental hospital where she spent much of her childhood after attempting to kill her father in an attempt to save her mother from spousal abuse (getting all of this so far?) for which Dr. Peter Teleborian (Rosendahl), a member of the Section and Salander’s former psychiatrist, has created a false report in order to do so.

With events spinning towards a reckoning and Salander’s half-brother Niedermann (Spreitz) loose in the countryside also wanting Salander dead, things are going to get a whole lot of ugly before they get resolved. The question is, will Blomkvist and Salander be alive to see things come to a close?

The third of the Millennium trilogy is in my opinion, the best one of the three and it is for somewhat odd reasons. Granted, Lisbeth Salander, the most compelling character, spends most of the movie locked up either in the hospital in jail but this I think makes her more vulnerable; her character is such a force of nature in many respects that a change is needed from the first two movies.

When Salander shows up in court in a Mohawk and leathers, it’s one of the more compelling courtroom confrontations ever. She is thumbing her nose at the system, refusing to testify in her own behalf and essentially telling the world “I’m not playing your game anymore.” It is a further example as to why this character is one of the most compelling to come on the scene in ages, and why Rapace is perfect to play her.

Some critics have excoriated the film for being too talky and they do have a point – there is a lot of conversation and little action here. That doesn’t mean it’s boring however – it is so well-written that you are interested in the conversation and given all the subplots bobbing and weaving their way around the film, it is a sucker punch to the gut when they eventually come together at the end.

The hulking blonde impervious-to-pain hitman is a staple of the Bond series but he is human here, as is the evil men pulling the strings behind the scenes and the psychiatrist in the courtroom. They are not caricatures and not figures, but flesh and blood people, greedy and reckless yes but understandable at least. They feel a part of our own world, as does Salander and Blomkvist.

The first movie in the trilogy is due to be released in a Hollywood remake directed by Oscar winner David Fincher this Christmas, with Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and newcomer Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. It is already being touted as an Oscar contender and could well be as successful here as it was in Scandinavia, the Swedish movies notwithstanding. However to those who are thinking of seeing that film, I urge you to find the three films made in Sweden and see them first.

WHY RENT THIS: The best of the bunch. Combines the taut thriller with a gripping courtroom drama. Rapace continues to be impressive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Once again a bit blander on the action than Americans are used to, although when it does come it’s pretty good.

FAMILY VALUES: The character of Gulberg is played by Hans Alfredson, father of the director.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Gulberg was played by the director’s father.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie was very likely a hit.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Super 8

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Frozen River


Frozen River

Melissa Leo discovers how cold the world can be.

(Sony Classics) Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Michael O’Keefe, Charlie McDermott, Mark Boone Jr., James Reilly, Jay Klaitz. Directed by Courtney Hunt

When times are hard, our moral compass is tested. How much of our integrity and our ethics will we compromise in order to survive? Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

Ray Eddy (Leo) lives in a trailer with her two kids, 15-year-old T.J. (McDermott) and 5-year-old Ricky (Reilly). They live in Northern New York near the Canadian border and also near the Mohawk reservation. It is the middle of winter and with Christmas approaching, things are pretty bleak.

We’re not just talking about the landscape. Ray’s husband has deserted them, leaving his car one night at the bingo parlor and getting on a bus, presumably to Atlantic City. He has a gambling problem – that would be an understatement – and has taken all of their savings with him. Ray is trying to keep her fingers and toes in the dike but the leaks are beginning to chip away at the dam. They dine nightly on microwave popcorn and Tang.

T.J. is fully aware that his dad has left them in the lurch and isn’t coming back. He wants to drop out of school and find a job, something Ray is adamantly opposed to. She works at the Dollar store part time and scrambles for more hours and maybe a promotion but the paycheck doesn’t quite stretch far enough. Their television set is about to be repossessed, something that Ray wants to avoid because she wants to keep Ricky feeling somewhat secure.

Lila Littlewolf (Upham) works at the bingo parlor and is terribly nearsighted, but can’t afford to buy glasses. She has a baby who is being raised by her mother-in-law, who refuses to allow her contact with her own child; Lila resorts to perching in a tree outside her mother-in-law’s home in freezing weather just to catch a glimpse of her baby.

Lila notices the abandoned car in the parking lot with keys conveniently in the ignition and drives off with it. Ray, who had gone to the bingo parlor to see if she could find some clue to her husband’s whereabouts, sees this and follows Lila home. She confronts the girl and takes the car back. Lila needs the transportation desperately and lets Ray in on a potential payday; if they drive across a frozen river at the Canadian border, they can make $2000 for bringing something back to the U.S. no questions asked. Furthermore Ray is less likely to be stopped than Lila, being white.

Ray is desperate so she agrees. When they arrive at Lila’s contact, Ray is shocked to discover that what they are bringing across the border are illegal aliens – mostly Pakistanis and Chinese. Ray is initially reluctant but it’s too late to back out. Once they successfully make it to the other side, Ray is ready to call their relationship quits.

Money talks however and Lila needs a lot more of it and so does Ray. They decide to make a few more runs, enough for Ray to replace the money that her husband stole for her and for Lila to get her baby back. However, as much as you try to keep your business in the dark, inevitably your actions will emerge into the light. In making things right for her kids, Ray could risk making things even worse for them.

Writer-director Hunt was nominated for an Oscar for her screenplay, as was Leo. While Hunt’s nomination really didn’t get a lot of buzz, Leo attracted a lot of notice from the critics and deservedly so. This is a career-making performance. Leo makes Ray a real, breathing woman, someone who the audience can identify with and root for. As good as Leo’s performance is, I think that despite the nomination Hunt’s script got lost in the shuffle because Leo was given a great character to play with, a woman pushed into a corner by a cold, unfeeling world and doing whatever it takes to keep her family together.

While Upham didn’t get the acclaim Melissa Leo did, nonetheless she delivers a terrific performance that nicely compliments Leo; not to take anything away from Melissa Leo but without Upham’s performance it’s entirely possible her own performance might have been overlooked. Part of what makes the role work as well as it does is the relationship between the women, one born of desperation and pragmatism.

As a director, Hunt captures the environment nicely. Mostly working class and the working poor, she nails what it’s like to live close to the edge where even one paycheck can mean the difference between survival and catastrophe. What the women do is dangerous but Hunt wisely doesn’t focus on that. Instead, she places the emphasis on the characters and the movie is much better as a result. In lesser hands, this would have been a run-of-the-mill drama with elements of suspense. A movie of the week, in other words.

This is a solid indie film that has authenticity oozing out of every frame. You never get the sense that the filmmakers are manufacturing anything; the events and characters seem organic to their environment and the story flows nicely without being formulaic. It can be hard to watch because of the unrelenting grim tone, but then again that’s just the way some people live. Worth checking out for Leo’s performance alone, this is one of those rare movies that come out of left field and attract the right kind of attention. It should also have your attention as well.

WHY RENT THIS: A standout performance by Melissa Leo elevates what could have been a mundane drama into something better. Director Hunt captures the despair and desperation of the characters and their situation nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An unrelenting grim tone may turn some viewers off.

FAMILY VALUES: A lot of rough language and adult situations may make this a little too much for younger sorts.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McDermott and Reilly, who play brothers in the film, are cousins in real life.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Men Who Stare at Goats