As I mentioned a few weeks or so ago, the parallels between volume 1 of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy and the earliest days of the real life Team Palast as documented in Palast's latest book are kind of eerie: an elderly womanizing disgraced liberal investigative journalist teams up with a younger man-hating female victim of sexual abuse amateur detective to take down rich killers who are above the law. The Hollywood trade press is saying that one reason it's tanking at the box office is that this is not exactly what most Americans want to go see during Christmas week, but it's the kind of thing that's solidly in my wheel-house.
It's a beautiful film. The Trent Reznor soundtrack is a little bombastic, in that way that Jerry Goldsmith scores usually are -- when the film wants you to be scared or wants you to be sad, the sound track hammers the stuffing out of you about it -- but it's an excellent soundtrack. (I walked out humming Enya's "Orinocco Flow" and twitching from the deliberately jarring way it's used.) Most of the violence happens off screen or is filmed at discrete angles, and the deliberately sickening attack on Lisbeth that's so important to the plot is still made only just barely as horrific as it needs to be; this is a profoundly unexploitative film about a subject that's easy and tempting for Hollywood to exploit. I'm told that the book and first movie adaptation play up the whodunnit aspects of the plot; this is, instead, a movie that's less about the cerebral exercise of solving a series of crimes than it is about the emotional and physical cost of doing so. I've heard complaints that Larsson's politics didn't make it into the film, but I don't know -- given the limitations of the movie's length, I think there are plenty of allusions to the central political issue of the book, at least as far as I know it from the many reviews I read, namely what Sweden's hushed-up, it's-impolite-to-bring-up, history of Nazi collaboration means for a country that wants to be an economically successful Scandanavian social welfare state, about the parallels between fascism then and neo-liberal corporatocracy now.
But above all, it's hands-down the best acted film I've seen all year. Maybe that's a low hurdle; I haven't seen a lot of movies this year, and most of them were genre films. But even with that grain of salt, let me tell you that Craig may be wasted on this part: his character is not an emotionally demonstrative man and neither is Craig in this role, and it's not hard to play a nearly one-note character, but I think he's more than adequate. Mara, on the other hand, is amazing; this is an Oscar-bait performance. There's this thing she does with her shifting posture that just completely, in every scene, sells the fact that this is a badly broken person, someone who has been hurt way too often, someone who toughs it out over a lot of unhealed emotional scars -- you constantly see her trying to do the impossible, to constantly watch every angle around her while lost in her own thoughts and while trying not to look anybody in the eye, someone trying to simultaneously be ignored and be too scary to mess with. The supporting cast are all pretty amazing, too.
I had one big complaint with the movie, and I know from the reviews of the book and the other movie that it's a source material problem. It's only a minor spoiler, since there are several characters in the movie that this description fits, but ... really? A Russian mafiosi alcoholic Nazi Christian fundamentalist corrupt corporate executive rapist serial killer? Really? Isn't that, oh, I don't know, just a little over the top? Just a little cartoonish?
Still: this movie deserves, in my opinion, to sell enough tickets to get the other two volumes of the trilogy green-lit. Please, go see it in a theater.