October 29, 2010 at 10:17 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet' -- GRADE: A

Review: 'Hornet's Nest' is a riveting hive of conspiracies facing goth heroine

Noomi Rapace has the right blend of psycho majesty and emotional cripple as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” (Nordisk Film)

Lisbeth Salander has a bullet in her brain, one in her hip and another in her arm.

Her eyes are glazed and her face is covered in blood.

Shot by her father and brother, they then commenced to bury her barely alive.

She dug herself out of the grave and then planted an ax in her father's skull.

This is where "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," the third and final chapter in Stieg Larsson's hugely popular Millennium Trilogy begins. And then things get really complicated.

In the first two books (and movies), Larsson, who passed away before the first book was even published, establishes Salander (the brilliant Noomi Rapace) as one of the great characters in modern fiction — a diminutive punk-hacker genius as strong in spirit and determination as she is severely emotionally damaged.

In the first film, she teamed up with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to capture a killer and expose a conspiracy; in the second she was on the run, falsely accused of three murders, set up by her own father.

With "Hornet's Nest," Larsson, and now Swedish director Daniel Alfredson, takes on the task of exposing the enormous government conspiracy that created and tried to crush Lisbeth.

It seems like a tough road because the story's most fascinating character — Lisbeth — is confined to a hospital room, and later a jail cell, for most of the movie. But Larsson pulled it off and so does Alfredson.

Alfredson wisely chooses to streamline the film version, dropping a Blomkvist love affair and completely ignoring another one of the book's major storylines. Instead, the concentration is on Lisbeth.

When she arrives at a hospital, Salander is still not safe. The false murder accusations are hanging around, and her father, who survived the ax, is just a few rooms down the hall.

Just as bad, her horrific half-brother remains on the loose and wants her head. And the secret organization that has sponsored her father has her on its death wish list.

That organization is also behind the monstrous psychiatrist, Dr. Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom) who abused the young Lisbeth and had her declared mentally incompetent. He wants her committed to his care for life.

Luckily, Lisbeth still has Blomkvist on her side — even though the two never talk directly. And now his pregnant, no-nonsense sister, Annika (Annika Hallin) has signed on as Lisbeth's lawyer.

What unfolds from there is a fast-moving conspiracy story in which paranoia becomes the norm for anyone attached even indirectly to Lisbeth. It's one of those shadow-government things involving old men who've been doing very bad things for a very long time.

Yet Lisbeth remains the film's center, even in her confined quarters. As the story reflects on all the evils visited upon her since childhood she actually gets stronger, both in body and conviction.

By the time she arrives in court she has regained her full punk, Goth splendor — her hair is a giant black spiked Mohawk, she's sporting black leather, her makeup is mascara madness. She's like some netherworld queen come to claim her rights and the effect is exhilarating. This woman will not be beaten down.

Pity poor Kate Mara, the young actress chosen to play Lisbeth in the coming Hollywood version of the saga. She will inevitably be compared to Rapace, who has captured just the right blend of psycho majesty and emotional cripple in the character.

Reading "Hornet's Nest" — which really is a wild hive of intricacies — it seemed near impossible to adapt to screen. And yet the film is a wonder of efficiency, considering.

If you haven't seen the first two films, do so and then see this one. If you have seen them, chances are you're already in the ticket line. "Hornet's Nest" has such a sweet sting.

tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

Noomi Rapace’s character is a diminutive, strong-willed punk-hacker genius ... (Musicbox Films)