Head Like A Hole, Black As Your Soul, I'd Rather Die Than Give You Control
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy comes crashing to an abrupt conclusion in this last of the original Swedish flickery. While I felt this book was the Return of the Jedi to The Empire Strikes Back of The Girl Who Played With Fire, they do a good enough job with the film. These are massive tomes, and it’s difficult to successfully fit all the material in a film. When Chris Columbus did the first two Harry Potter films, they played out like highlight reels of the events in the books rather than actual stories. When Alfonso Cuaron took over on the third film, he made full-on changes to the world of the books, but his boldness paid off and made Prisoner of Azkaban feel like an actual film. That’s kind of what Daniel Alfredson does with the last two films in the Millennium Trilogy. This is probably the most successful of the three films, but they will always feel like representations of the more heady and intelligent materials of the books. Alfredson is currently directing a TV miniseries called Millennium which follows the exploits of these same characters, and whether it’s a clever marketing ploy or just the true nature of the stories, the films feel unfinished, like there is plenty more story to tell. If rumor holds true, Larsson’s laptop contained the materials for at least two more novels, plus notes on upwards of maybe 10 novels total. So while this temporarily closes the door on the series for now, they’re insistent on keeping that door unlocked.
In all honesty, there’s going to be no way to possibly review this film without giving away information on not just the events of the first two films, but also some of the third. If you have any desire to read the novels unspoiled, please go do so, and then watch the films. But these three stories are so interwoven, and they make a point of returning to several catastrophic events in the earlier films that to possibly discuss them as individual pieces is virtually impossible.
The original title translates as The Castle In The Air That Exploded, which might be a more apt description of the events of the movie. Shit goes down. If the first book is about uncovering, the second one is about revenge, and the third one is about ramifications. Lisbeth lies in a hospital bed, recovering from several gunshot wounds, including one that goes into her skull. She’s up on charges of attempted murder, and she basically has to defend herself against Peter Teleborian, the very slimy psychiatrist who’s conspired to keep her locked away since she was a pyromaniac child, and a secret police cabal that’s trying to hide all its secrets. Blomkvist is actively attempting to pull up every rock, which is when the creepy-crawlies turn their attention on him. It all plays out like a punk-rock-girl version of James Bond, except it ends in a crime procedural. Oh, and there’s a menacing albino-giant lurking around in the shadows.
The entire feel of the film is very compartmentalized, even where the events are blending. The Blomkvist portion and the Lisbeth portion are so fragmentary. Because there is so little of Larsson’s social commentary to remove from this particular novel, it does play out much better. And with everything else that’s been cinematically portrayed in the Millennium trilogy, there are some parts that they’ve simply nailed and others that they’ve done a poor job. Many of the more complex circumstances of the story have been simplified for the film, which is alright for most of the scenes, but they’ve really short-shrifted the final lawyer showdown, to the detriment of the movie.
The hospital scenes, and in particular the doctor who takes care of Lisbeth, are terrific. Doctor Jonasson is spectacular, almost like a soap-opera doctor who harbors a small crush on his famous patient. It’s a wonderful way to start the film, particularly one where things are about to get ugly. The ugliness comes in the form of the secret police group, an inner circle within SAPO. But instead of a dangerous group of old men who are still firm enough to bury the bodies of those who get in their way, it comes off like some combination of Cocoon and Bourne. This might be because they are moving things so rapidly in the film, they are hurtling through so many hoops, things are going to get overlooked. But there’s an entire sequence in the hospital between Zalachenko, Lisbeth’s father, and Lisbeth that I was really looking forward to seeing acted out on screen, where they essentially plot to murder one another from their hospital beds, and it becomes a force of will to see who will heal soon enough to commit the murder, and the filmmakers completely ignore it.
Blomkvist actually gets most of his story condensed, which I’m OK with. Most of his story follows him hunting down the secret police, and research is difficult to sex-up for the screen. Most of the focus is and should be on Lisbeth and her upcoming trial, with Annika Giannini, Blomkvist’s sister as the attorney. This was my favorite part of the book, and they really just half-assed it. It’s the stuff of all great lawyer lit, watching as legal factions totally grill the ever-loving hell out of corrupt officials, and how last minute evidence crushes people. It’s boiled down to one single showdown, but I must admit, it’s a hell of a showdown.
And that showdown’s against Peter Teleborian. They’ve basically devoted the entirety of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest to Lisbeth and Blomkvist destroying Peter Teleborian, who Anders Albohm plays like a wicked Frasier Crane. And, frankly, they kill it. Watching him get busted down is one of the finest things about the film, and it almost makes you forgive all the other inadequacies. Teleborian is such a piece of shit — and in the novel, the grilling is so fine, you can actually smell the smoke from the pages. They do a great job taking him down, and taking down the cocky prosecutor Ekstrom.
Then the film ends so abruptly, you feel like if they had their druthers they would have simply not filmed it and prayed that the widow Larsson release the material for the other novels. The scenes are tacked on almost as an afterthought, and the very last scene in the film not only is unnecessary, but rehashes the terrible job they’ve done with overemphasizing the love-story between Blomkvist and Lisbeth. Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist are still terrific as Lisbeth and Blomkvist, as apt a representation as possible of these two literary legends, but they shouldn’t still be crushing on one another.
As much as it seems I am bashing this, it’s really a much more watchable film than the first two. I hope we get to see more of Lisbeth and Blomkvist on the written page rather than the cinematic representations we’ve received thus far. I cringe at the thought of what they will do when they Americanize The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. If the Swedes can’t even do a bang up job, and feel the overwhelming need to romanticize the two main characters, when American studios get their hands on the project, I weep for what we will see.
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