The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: Film Review

A smashing conclusion to the film versions of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy.

The bar has been raised to a high level for director David Fincher and producer Scott Rudin, filming their English-language adaptation of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

The Swedes who got to the film versions of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy first -- the novels, after all, are in Swedish -- have produced a riveting trio of movies with the pulse-pounding finale, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," opening Oct. 29 in the States.

This final 2 1/2-hour, dark-as-aortal-blood thriller is the best of the bunch. The milieu is authentic and the characters completely in sync with their literary counterparts as the tension ratchets up a notch with each passing minute.

Of course, foreign-language thrillers, even ones that collectively generate more than $200 million in worldwide box office, get relegated to art houses in the U.S. So the number of Americans who actually have seen these earlier films -- originally made for TV -- will be small when Fincher's version hits theaters.

"Hornet's Nest," which begins only moments after the second film, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," ended, immediately plunges the viewer into the nightmarish and ominous twilight world so brilliantly established by the late crime author.

His heroine, Lisbeth Salander (the mesmerizing Noomi Rapace), is airlifted to a hospital in critical condition with a bullet lodged in her brain; his hero, crusading journalist and magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), races against a publication deadline to clear Lisbeth of trumped-up police charges; and their now-desperate enemies conspire to erase evidence, intimidate witnesses and eliminate all threat of public disclosure of a clandestine cell of rogue spies in the intelligence service.

Screenwriter Ulf Rydberg, who is new to the series, does a fine job of isolating the narrative spine of the novel from all the other fascinating details, characters and multiple plots from the book. One could quibble with a few omissions, particularly the movie's Blomkvist not suspecting his phone is being monitored, which makes him seem a little slow. Otherwise, Rydberg has crafted a spellbinding sprint to the finish line by deadly competitors whose lives hang in the balance.

Even while confined to a hospital bed, Rapace's Lisbeth again is the story's ground zero. Without speech at first and mostly silent and sullen even when she starts to regain her physical and mental facilities, Lisbeth is fascinatingly unpredictable. Rapace has an eerie ability to communicate her character's innermost -- and not unreasonably paranoid -- thoughts. Watching her evolve from a seriously ill patient to the seriously bad-ass, body-pierced punk computer hacker everyone knows and loves -- complete with mohawk haircut, black leather biker clothes and a fuck-you attitude -- is one of the movie's pure pleasures.

By contrast, Blomkvist's dogged, old-school journalist, while her equal in stubbornness, knows he won't get a complete handle on the villains' conspiracies without her hacker's help. His faith in her innocence and ruthless determination to vindicate his ex-lover is all the more touching given her complete rejection of him.

The villains are smartly drawn: the cartoonish sort like German superman Niedermann (Mikael Spreitz) and the more realistic fiends like conniving hospital psychiatrist Peter Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl). Ditto that for the good guys, including newspaper editor Erika Berger (Lena Endre); Blomkvist's lawyer sister, Annika Giannini (Annika Hallin); and two newcomers, the spy service's internal snoop Monica Figuerola (Mirja Turestedt) and Lisbeth's sympathetic caregiver, Dr. Jonasson (Aksel Morisse).

The movie features a great finish, where three movies' worth of subplots and characters dovetail into a breathtaking climax and final confrontation that is positively soul satisfying. Jacob Groth's taut music score and Peter Mokroskinski's brooding cinematography enhance this intense dramatic crescendo. However, in the print caught, some long shots appeared fuzzy or out of focus.

By far the greatest contribution below the line comes from Hakan Karlsson's slam-bang editing, which creates continued momentum in what really is a very talky movie.