Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mystery series that kill

Noomi Rapace

Over the past three nights I’ve watched The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy from Sweden on Netflix. I have seen it before, but I liken it to The Godfather: the story is so epic and involving I watched it again to catch things I missed the first time.

I confess I have not read the Steig Larsson novels on which the movies are based. I would like to at some point, but I am basing my review solely on the motion pictures.

Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, is one of the great characters in movies. As played  in the Swedish version by Noomi Rapace she is unforgettable. You look at the picture of her above; she is portraying a woman with a troubled soul. The sequence from which the still is taken is her conversation with her legal guardian, Nils Bjurman. She realizes in order to get money from her account he requires she give him sex. What follows is a brutal rape, a very rough scene to watch. Even though the viewers squirm, the rape leads to one of the best revenge scenarios ever. Lisbeth, at one point described as “five feet tall and 88 pounds” is deceptively tough. She can handle herself because she’s a genius with a photographic memory, and for another she’s a survivor of the plots against her.

As a child Lisbeth tried to kill her father. She threw gasoline on him and set him on fire. He survived but she was put into a mental institution presided over by the insidious Dr. Peter Teleborian. I’m getting ahead of myself because Lisbeth’s backstory is not fully explored until the second and third parts of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. There is a plot involving Swedish national security, a Soviet defector and a cover-up. It’s a great story, and if you haven’t seen those movies take my word that they are worth watching, but not unless you have seen the first part.
In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo we are introduced not only to Salander, but to Mikael Blomqvist (played by actor Michael Nyqvist). Blomqvist is a muckraking journalist who has been sued for libel by a rich businessman and found guilty. Before reporting for a prison term he is hired by another rich man to find the truth about a missing girl, Harriett, who disappeared forty years before. The Vanger family is rich and corrupt, and Blomqvist, after enlisting the aid of Lisbeth, gets further into the investigation than anyone else has in forty years. The truth is shocking and disturbing, and was the basis for the Swedish title of the book and movie, Men Who Hate Women.

I have seen the American-made version starring Daniel Craig as Blomqvist and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, and while it was a good movie in its own right, I believe the Swedish version to be much superior in all ways, especially the part of Lisbeth.

Rooney Mara

With Netflix online I have access to some really interesting movies and television programs. I’ve been taking advantage. For instance, another Swedish series, Wallander, is available on Netflix. Wallander was presented on Swedish television as 90 minute TV movies. The star is Krister Henriksson. After seeing those 13 episodes I watched some of the English versions of Wallander with Kenneth Branagh, and as with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I prefer the original in Swedish to the English-language versions. I’m a fan of Branagh,  but not as Wallander.

Krister Henriksson

I went to my library and found an earlier Swedish Wallander DVD series with nine episodes from 2005 in the same format. The series is based on characters in novels by mystery writer Henning Mankell. As an additional item of interest, one of the male leads in that series is played by Ola Rapace, who at the time was married to Noomi Rapace.

I might prefer the Swedish versions of mystery stories because there is a heaviness that hangs over Scandinavian countries. Maybe it’s their wintery climate, or maybe it’s just my perception. Whatever the truth of it is, the Swedes who made the Lisbeth Salander movies and the Wallander TV series have invested a lot of local color into their films, and made them all the more interesting.


I wrote of the famous Swedish mystery series of novels about police detective Martin Beck here.

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