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23rd June
written by Mad Cow

Rated: Not rated – but very violent in three upsetting scenes

Cow’s rating: three cowbells

There is something compelling about a woman character who knows her own mind. Someone who doesn’t smile but isn’t depressed. Knows what she wants and does what she wants but still cares about others. Who may have “issues” but evokes no pity. Is fearless. FEARLESS. Think Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) on The Good Wife or the star of the French film La Femme Nikita (Anne Paullard). But you have to see Noomi Rapace in this role to believe her. Every look and gesture count.

The mystery/thriller plot keeps one’s eyes glued to the screen with no effort at all. Not bad for a 2 hour and 40 minute Swedish film with subtitles. The skilled cinematography and overall scenic background illuminate the story’s fascination.  Investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is engaged by the industrialist and patriarch of the Vanger family to help solve the disappearance of his niece 40 years before. But not before Mikael has been investigated by 24-year-old Lisbeth Salander (Rapace), employed by the security firm Vanger used to check him out.

Lisbeth is an expert at computer investigations, better known as hacking. Somehow intrigued by Mikael’s situation and the investigation at hand, she shows up to help him. Lisbeth has suffered much but has learned to take care of herself without help from anyone. This woman has single-mindedness and a kind of agency that women are simply not allowed to have. Is she a feminist heroine? Maybe. She gives as good as she gets in a way that gives one pause. Regardless, Rapace’s performance is worth the price of the ticket.

Larson used several mystery/thriller tropes skillfully. The large Vanger family live on an island and the only bridge was out on the day the niece disappeared. So everyone is a suspect and there is a finite number of them. A tight creepy group they are and we even once get to see them all in the living room. Moreover, Mikael has time to take this job because he’s been disgraced in a set-up and has to leave the newspaper. But as clues build and unexpected things happen, some themes don’t work as well.

One only has to mention Stieg Larsson to evoke over-the-top enthusiasm and loyalty from his fans. It’s unfortunate that he died so young. The trilogy of books that started with this one will be all the fiction he wrote. A journalist and self-proclaimed feminist, he was felled by a heart attack in his fifties, shortly after finishing the third novel, which hit the stores and the best seller lists simultaneously.

In Sweden the title of the book and movie is Men who Hate Women, which some use as proof positive that Larsson was really a feminist. But the story/film cannot be celebrated as a clear cut feminist achievement. The upshot is disappointing in both content and originality. As we approach the climax, we’re suddenly in TV land with a killer and his motive as everyday and misogynist as those that can be seen on Law and Order or CSI. The titillation-motivated formula of the murder of beautiful women is a great disappointment. There is a twist that works well. I haven’t given you a spoiler here. But the villain’s motivation is not only lame but used to offer some gratuitous shots of the aftermath of violence.

Living in the real world of partiality and many magnificent pieces of art that are short of perfection, I have to recommend this movie and hope that the Swedes are at work on the second one with Rapace on board. Director Niels Arden Oplev got it just right. There apparently will be a U.S. remake next year and there’s every reason to feel ho-hum about it. Let’s stick with the real thing, for once.

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