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Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010

The Hornet’s Nest

Stieg Larsson’s best-selling trilogy concludes

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Lisbeth Salander is a hard one to kill. Perilously close to death last time we met her, in The Girl Who Played With Fire, she awakens in a hospital, bloodied and barely alive, in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Charged with the attempted murder of her severely estranged father, Zalachenko, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is escorted from hospital to jail to court in the finale of the popular trilogy based on the best sellers of Swedish author Stieg Larsson. The kickboxing, motorcycle-riding Goth heroine is sidelined to some extent, yet the stormy-eyed Lisbeth, wary and deadly as a caged jungle cat, remains the story’s beating heart.

Because of her confinement, the attention shifts to Larsson’s alter ego, the dauntless investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). One suspects Blomkvist’s interest in her case is more than professional; since this is not a Hollywood flick, director Daniel Alfredson trusts us to draw intelligent conclusions. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a long film that never drags, cut to an impeccable rhythm and filmed with a keen eye for composition and the drama of color and light.

The Sweden of Larsson’s trilogy is not a pleasant nation of sex, Saabs and social democracy but a dark place, literally as well as figuratively. The northern sky broods, even when lit by the sun, over a land of gloomy grays and blues girded with thick forests and filled with respectable facades rotten underneath. The benign mask of a medical doctor can conceal a pedophile with ties to high places and a harmless old tax lawyer turns out to be an agent for a rogue group within Sweden’s secret service that has operated since the 1960s. It protected the Soviet defector Zalachenko, even to the extent of silencing his 12-year-old daughter, Lisbeth, by locking her in a heinous mental hospital.

The story is composed from many strands of pulp fiction. Zalachenko is the snickering face of evil and as ugly as cancer. We are happy when one of his semi-retired handlers takes it upon himself to kill the guy as he recovers from the thrashing Lisbeth gave him in The Girl Who Played With Fire. Zalachenko’s son (and Lisbeth’s unlikely looking half brother) is an Aryan monster, a lumbering blond giant impervious to pain. Larsson’s trilogy is essentially a mythic vengeance quest with the Furies of ancient Greece embodied in the nose-ringed, mohawked Lisbeth. Her mission is to avenge the powerless victims of the powerful, especially women who were abused by men.

Blomkvist can seem like a drudge by contrast to Lisbeth, yet without his skills and access to the public imagination, her case would be lost. He represents a more modern concept of justice by trial in the media with the journalist as heroic seeker of truth. Blomkvist isn’t as flashy as the death-defying superheroine Lisbeth, but in the real world his work achieves more results. Opens Oct. 29 at the Downer Theatre.