Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Starring: MichaelNyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube
UK Release date: 12 March 2010
Certificate: 18 (152 mins)
As John the Evangelist once said (I have it on the highest authority): ‘if you can remember the first Holy Week, you weren’t there at the time’.
I’ve also been told that reviewers have been sacked from Thinking Faith for lazily describing their assignment as a ‘must see’ film. So, at risk of my career, this is the film you must see for Lent. Even if you haven’t managed the fasting, the abstinence and the dirty smudge on the forehead, this film will make it OK. Well, sort of OK.
Let me admit straight away that it is a Swedish action movie. Yes, I know that sounds just as good as a Swiss romantic comedy or an Italian political documentary. But trust me, stay with the programme, it’s worth it. For starters, it has good old-fashioned story telling – the sort Hollywood thinks is uncommercial and Camden thinks is unfashionable. The goodies are people who share our moral universe; the baddies make every effort to earn our condemnation. And you need never worry about which side you’re meant to be on: the chief baddie is ultimately revealed as a Nietzschean neo-Nazi ubermensch, a secular fundamentalist who has gone beyond religion and the morality it underpins to his own hubristic monotheism of the Self.
The plot is simple: we are introduced to two lives destined to intersect. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is a failed journalist convicted of libel, alone in the world and abandoned by his friends and his newspaper – a lonely man of honour, integrity and truth. He is hired to investigate the disappearance of a young heiress (a woman whom, as it happens, Mikael knew as a child) whose uncle Henrik (Sven-Bertil Taube), the patriarch of the great rich capitalist bourgeois Vanger family, believes she was murdered. And, Henrik believes, she was murdered by one of his own family who sends him dried pressed flowers from all over the world on his birthday to taunt him.
Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is a private investigator assigned by Mikael’s enemies to find evidence with which to smear him. She is a better looker than Scarlett Johansson, a better biker than Lara Croft and has a more troubled past than Peaches Geldof. She is a survivor of all kinds of horrid childhood hurts. But she is also well capable of taking care of herself in a subway brawl. She cogitates like Woodward and chain-smokes like Bernstein. What she cannot immediately deal with is a probation officer who trades sexual favours for good court reports. And let’s be frank, this is not a film that pulls its punches regarding the evil of sexual violence. But, to cheers from the women in the auditorium, she does not remain a victim for long. And, in the course of her assignment to observe Mikael’s life, she realises that he has been unjustly convicted. Suddenly her life has meaning, purpose and conviction – a reason to believe that Mary Magdalen would have understood.
In search of Truth, cold, pure and absolute, Blomqvist trails through the clues on the deserted, snowbound island of Helmstadt where the Vanger family holds a feudal reign of silent loyalty. His ideals are as high, cold and pure as the fjords; his humour as dry and cold as the climate. And (an endearing quality) his one comfort is a really good single malt. Lisbeth intersects his life at strange angles. Her ideals hold no coherent shape as her demons fight for control of the helm; her moral compass swings like magnetic north approaching the true Pole. And hers is the insight that makes Truth possible.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper whodunnit if they didn’t catch the baddie in the end. There is even a drawing room ensemble piece worthy of Poirot. But don’t get carried away by guessing the villain – that’s neither the ending nor the point. I won’t, give away the ending, but every fan of Tiger Woods will love the fact that it involves a pitching wedge. And if you think it’s predictable, you’re wrong.
But even the ending is peripheral to the Point: where and how is it possible to find both Truth and Love in the urban squalor of a commodified world, in which everything has a price and nothing has value independent of the krona? It is a point that John the Evangelist would have recognised: does the ultimate Goodness come from above or from within – or maybe a bit of both?
Sure, there will be those who find the cinematography predictable, derivative, even clichéd. For the filmophile, there are references too numerous to scribble down at the back of the auditorium, but especially Mad Max, Dirty Harry and Tomb Raider.Some of the cliffhangers are naïve to the point of silliness. And, if not well-acted, it could all too easily have degenerated into a Swedish Taggart with self-styled hard-men of the tundra breaking down in tears and wee, sleekit cowrin tim’rous women discovering new uses for their rolling pins. But actually the acting makes it all credible: the snake oil oozes from the probation officer, the bike oil from Lisbeth and the typewriter oil from Mikael. They are all the people they purport to be; especially the baddies.
So, if you haven’t quite managed fasting and abstinence, this is your ‘must see’ film. Not since Schindler’s List have I left a film so much in need of a long walk; and not since Shawshank have I felt so redeemed. Which, funnily enough, for those of us who weren’t there at the time, is as close as we’ll ever get to the first Easter.
Paul O?Reilly SJ
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