Friday, 17 December 2010


The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest on film suffers from many of the same problems it did as a novel: a need to bring so many plot strands and so much historical background together it sometimes flounders on its own exposition. Of course it's far easier to do in the book, because you have the time, and in reducing the book to a flowing thriller, particularly one in which the main character is hospital bed-ridden for much of time, the film-makers have had to lose a lot. In fact, they appear to take as given that their audience has either read the trilogy or at least seen the previous film, The Girl Who Played With Fire, which was made by the same team and basically appears to have been conceived as one long mini-series, re-edited into two feature films.

I said as much when I reviewed Girl Who Played (link to that here) back in August, after reviewing it for The Strand, that it appeared to be scaled for the smaller screen, and I think viewing the sequel confirms that. The first film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was conceived by the different team of film-makers as a much more a self-contained story, with the thriller plot foregrounded and much of the rest left behind, but in those terms it worked, and the second-third films of the trilogy may be considered almost as stand-alone.

The biggest cut, of course, is the background into the secret intelligence group that ran Lisbeth Salander's father and others and initated its own political policies within the Swedish government. Larsson approached issues which resonate in Swedish political history, but which aren't really relevant to the basic Salander plot, so out they go in this film. I have commented many times on the similarity of Larsson's trilogy to The Count Of Monte Cristo, and it's here that the comparison is most clear--like Edmond Dantes, Lisbeth is imprisoned for knowledge which is is unaware she has, to protect people she doesn't know she threatens. That Mikke Blomqvist becomes her Abbe puts a slightly different twist on their relationship.

Of course much else is lost--if you hadn't seen the second film you would not even have caught the reference to Erika Berger's being married, which would explain why the spies might think photographs of her and Mikke were compromising. The subplot with her being offered a newspaper editor's job disappeared, instead Lena Endre is left yet again playing the authority figure who acts as a brake or rein on a more committed professional. That she's somewhat too old for the role makes her more of a mother-figure and less a sometimes-romantic partner, but she is so good an actress she carries it off.

Yet another of the novels' unlikely romances for Mikke is left behind, and the story doesn't suffer for that, and again there are only cameo appearances for the cop Bublanski, one of the novel's more interesting characters, and for Armanskij, whose security skills figure heavily on the page. There are so many characters within the intelligence, legal, and police world's that it is hard to keep track of just exactly who is who, and what they did, which is also a problem which having read the book helps solve.

Much of Salander's internet activity from her hospital bed is condensed, which is not a huge loss, but what is underplayed the most is the courtroom. Lisbeth's appearance, back in full punk regalia, is a nice set-piece, but the whole dynamic of the court, complete with a mystifying performance by the chief judge, who keeps nodding and making faces which are supposed to indicate either agreement or disagreement. Of course, given the Swedish justice system's behaviour in the current Assange case, it's not surprising they seem to bend over for the prosecution until they can't. Still, the condensing of the case for the screen loses much of the nuance, and what is lft in the trial is both obvious from a plot summary and questionable from a legal procedural one! The courtroom is central to Larsson's story, however--as you can see from the Swedish film poster--the idea that 'castles in the air' that Lisbeth blows up are the ideal of Swedish society, which only a few committed people (Mikke, Lisbeth's doctor, and some others) actually believe in. Much of Larsson's success stems from the resonance of that residual disappointment in many modern democracies.

But the lone hero triumphing is something of a Dumas cliche, if not one from films. In films, of course, you need yet another small car chase is squeezed into the story, complete with baby-carriage being threatened, but yet again Larsson triumph because of the Salander character, and Noomi Rapace steals the show at the end, with her simple inability to express her thanks in person. This film, and its predecessor, give you the skeleton frames of the novels, much of the fascinating background, and make the best characters play out as they do on the page. It works for what it is, and it would be very hard to expect it to be more--I think of Rosi or Oliver Stone as filmmakers who have approached deep conspiracies successfully in more depth, and I've wondered about historical shorthand turning into longhand in The Baader-Meinhof Gang or Carlos, but I'd be curious to see how this would edit into a mini-series.

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