Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is Wonderfully Old-Fashioned

Murder on the Orient Express 2017 movie poster

Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” marks a return of sorts for the actor and director. His last few movies as a director, “Thor,” “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” and “Cinderella,” had him embracing all the cinematic tools available to him to where his unique talents threatened to be squashed as he began to look like any other filmmaker making blockbuster motion pictures. But with this latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery novel, we see him returning to his theatre roots as he directs an all-star cast to excellent performances while simultaneously playing the lead role of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The late Leonard Nimoy said he never directed another “Star Trek” movie after “The Voyage Home” because acting and directing at the same time was just too much work. Branagh, however, makes it all look like a walk in the park, and after all these years I am astonished that he can make it look so easy.

Branagh is fantastic as Hercule, and he makes this classic character into a man of many splendors. We first see him being very picky about being served two hard-boiled eggs, both of which need to be the same size for him to eat. This scene almost makes him looks like a food snob, but then we see him solve a crime at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Hercule brings up three holy men to the front of the crowd, and immediately we think one of them is guilty, and that, once the guilty man is revealed, people will find their prejudices to be justified. But instead, Hercule implicates another man with the crime, and it shows how he sees sins as being universal and not relegated to a particular group or ethnicity. From there, we know this man will not be bound by prejudice when it comes to solving a crime.

Hercule just wants to take a holiday aboard the Orient Express, and we see him take great joy in observing perfectly baked foods as well in reading Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” which he laughs at constantly. But detectives like him can only stay on vacation for so long as the scent of crime is never far from him. And, as the movie’s title implies, a murder is committed which only he can solve with his unique set of skills. This will not be an easy case, but Hercule is quick to tell us, “If it were easy, I would not be famous.”

“Murder on the Orient Express” has been adapted several times, the most famous adaptation being Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film which, like this one, features an all-star cast. I have not seen any of the previous versions nor have I read Christie’s novel, so I am coming into this one a fresh newbie. From the start, I expected Branagh’s film to be an old-fashioned whodunit, but as it went on, I was surprised to see the story deal with themes Shakespeare wrote about time and time again. It becomes less about who the murderer is and more about the sins we allow ourselves to live with and of the different kinds of punishment we are forced to endure. Once the murderer is revealed, the story doesn’t stop there.

Branagh brings together a terrific group of actors who sink their teeth into roles which, on the surface, might seem underwritten and one-dimensional, but each actor does excellent work in creating an inner life for their characters to where their eyes tell us more than their mouths do. Even as they work on perfecting their poker faces, something which Hercule has them all beat at, their eyes betray a truth which can no longer stay buried.

Johnny Depp shows up as Edward Ratchett, an unsavory individual who becomes the victim of the story. Seeing Depp getting killed off early on in a movie is guaranteed to please many audience members who have had their fill of him, and I don’t just mean Amber Heard. I’m just glad Branagh cast him in this role instead of as Hercule. Depp would have just resurrected his Guy LaPointe character from “Tusk” and “Yoga Hosers” if he played Hercule, or perhaps he would have given us another variation on Charlie Mortdecai as, like Hercule, that character sports a truly extravagant mustache. All the same, Depp is wonderful in the role and makes Ratchett into a despicable character whose nasty fate deserves a thorough investigation.

I loved watching Penelope Cruz as Pilar Estravados as her demeanor presents the character as one with dark intentions as well as someone who has suffered far too much pain and tragedy in life. It took me a bit to recognize Josh Gad who plays Ratchett’s right-hand man, Hector MacQueen, and he is excellent as a man who has compromised his values once too often. Daisy Ridley, whom we cannot wait to see again as Rey in the next “Star Wars” movie, matches Branagh scene for scene as Mary Debenham, a lady who refuses to be investigated by Hercule for a protracted amount of time, but even her poker face falls apart before she realizes it. And you can always depend on Derek Jacobi, Dame Judi Dench and Willem Dafoe to turn in excellent performances as they rarely, if ever, have let us down.

But one performance I want to single out in particular is Michelle Pfeiffer’s who portrays Caroline Hubbard. 2017 has been a big year for Pfeiffer as she has emerged from what seems like an infinitely long hiatus and has given unforgettable and scene-stealing performances in Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” and Barry Levinson’s “The Wizard of Lies.” The same goes with her performance here as she takes the stereotypical divorced socialite and renders her into a complex figure of tragedy whose armor is harder for Hercule to break through. Pfeiffer has always been a fantastic actress, and her performance as Caroline reminded me of this and of how long her career has lasted. She has a show-stopping moment towards the movie’s end (you’ll know it when you see it), and it is further proof of how she has never been just another pretty face in Hollywood.

Branagh has directed “Murder on the Orient Express” as a theatre piece, and it is clear to me how much attention he has given the actors here. Having said that, he also gives this adaption a beautifully cinematic look. Along with his collaborators, director of photography Haris Zambarloukos and composer Patrick Doyle, he makes this film feel wonderfully old-fashioned, and it seems like forever since I have watched a movie which evokes this feeling. It should also be noted how he shot this movie on 65mm film which suits the material perfectly, and seeing those cigarette burns appear on the screen was a very welcome sight for me.

Of course, not everything about “Murder on the Orient Express” is perfect. The movie does drag a bit towards the end, and the story is at times a bit hard to follow. It also pales in comparison to another mystery movie Branagh directed back in the 1990’s, “Dead Again.” Still, it proves to be a wonderfully entertaining motion picture which reminded me of his best work even while not quite equaling it. The ending draws our attention to another Agatha Christie classic novel which implies, if this movie does well, we could be seeing the beginning of a franchise. I do hope this happens as Branagh has put together a wonderfully entertaining motion picture which begs for a continuation. Whether he can come up with a follow up remains to be seen as the world of movies remains dominated by endless superhero/comic book franchises.

I also have to say the mustache Branagh sports in this movie is very impressive. Lord knows how long it took for him to grow and keep so pointy. Many other actors would have been easily upstaged by such a mustache, but not Branagh.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Chris Marquette Talks About Working with Vincent D’Onofrio in ‘Broken Horses’

Broken Horses Chris Marquette

Broken Horses” stars Anton Yelchin and Chris Marquette as brothers who are as close as siblings can be, and it’s very poetic how this movie arrived in theaters on National Siblings Day. Yelchin plays Jacob Heckum, a very talented violinist who reunites with his brother Buddy (Chris Marquette) in their hometown after being separated for a number of years. Their paths have gone in different directions, and Buddy has long since fallen under the spell of Julius Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio), a gangster who has since gained complete control over Buddy to where he has denied him any chance of a scholastic education. But while Julius may have succeeded in turning Buddy into one of his most efficient mercenaries, Buddy is now looking for a way out of this mess he innocently fell into.

I got to talk with Marquette during at the Sofitel Hotel in Beverly Hills, California where he was doing promotion for “Broken Horses.” Marquette began his career as a model at the age of 4, and he later made his acting debut as the son of Mira Sorvino’s character in “Sweet Nothing.” I was very interested in hearing from him what it was like working with D’Onofrio who is one of cinema’s most accomplished actors. D’Onofrio left a memorable impression on us all in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” and he has given us unforgettable performances in “Mystic Pizza,” “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Strange Days.” In addition, many will never forget his work as Detective Robert Goren on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” or on the “Subway” episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

Broken Horses movie poster

Marquette described what it was like acting opposite D’Onofrio, and his answer provided information about him which many of us didn’t know before.

Chris Marquette: He’s got a foot and a half on both of us which really helps. But D’Onofrio is a charmer and a great storyteller, and he’s really charismatic and that always carries weight and power. He’s got a million stories about the filmmakers and the sets he’s been on, so it was easy for me to start sliding into being whisked away by Vincent and Hench, his character. We were messing around one day and Vincent was just telling me stuff. I was asking him about his life and before he got into acting, and he was an amateur magician. With magicians you’ve got a way of doing tricks, and if you modify it slightly then you’ve technically invented a new technique. And so he invented some new technique on something really simple, and he’s telling me this and he starts doing the magic and it was… He’s telling me this whole story and I was so enthralled by it, and he was showing me this magic trick and I remember the next day Vinod and Abhijat (Joshi, the movie’s co-writer) called me and they said we think we’re writing in this… There’s a part where we are playing pool in the movie and he said, ‘You guys aren’t playing pool, I think he’s going to be showing you a magic trick.’ He was entertaining me like he would a kid, showing me this thing and I was like, ‘It’s amazing! Do it again!’

Not many actors get the opportunity of working with an actor like D’Onofrio, and Marquette is one of the lucky few who did. His thoughts on the “Full Metal Jacket” actor were truly fascinating, and I thank him for his time.

“Broken Horses” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Get Out

Get Out movie poster

You know the main characters of this movie are in trouble once they hit a deer. Of this, I speak from my own experience as my dad drove me to the airport one time and ran over a deer which walked into his traffic lane. It was not his fault as the deer came out of nowhere, and there wasn’t any time to hit the brakes to avoid an animal oblivious to the Volvo station wagon heading straight at him (or her). Nevertheless, a week later I got laid off from my job. Looking back, hitting the deer proved to be an omen of bad things to come, and losing my job was one of them.

I was reminded of this as I watched the opening minutes of “Get Out,” an insidiously clever horror movie with the occasional dose of humor thrown in. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) are driving up an empty stretch of road to meet her parents when they slam into a deer. There’s nothing they can do to help the animal, and the police officer who arrives at the scene asks for Chris’ license even though he wasn’t driving. Rose encourages the officer to let Chris be, and he eventually leaves the scene while advising her to fix her broken rearview mirror. But as the movie goes on, this turns out to be the least of their problems.

I should probably point out that Chris and Rose are an interracial couple, and Chris is concerned Rose’s parents have no idea her daughter is dating a black man. His nervousness is understandable, and it is elevated further when Rose’s parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) try to make him feel welcome by telling him they would have voted President Barack Obama for a third time if it were possible. Basically, the Armitages are well-meaning white folks who support the fight against racism, but they have yet to understand the damage, however unintentional, they are doing to African-Americans.

Things get even weirder when Chris meets two other black people who work for the Armitages, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson). Both act very strangely and in a manner which threatens to redefine passive-aggressive, and the way they stare at Chris is unnerving as they look like snakes ready to strike at their pray without much notice. It doesn’t take long for Chris to realize something is terribly wrong, but his attempts to escape the Armitage household are not exactly successful.

There is a lot of racial tension burning right underneath the surface in “Get Out,” and this is on purpose. The movie plays on the stereotypes whites have of blacks and vice-versa. Everyone is trying to be polite, but you can sense what’s really going on by looking into the eyes of each character as they project darker intentions or sheer terror, and sometimes both. We are left in suspense as we constantly wonder what the Armitages truly have in store for the helpless Chris, and when their intentions are revealed, it makes a scary, and an oddly amusing, amount of sense.

“Get Out” marks the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, one-half of the famous comedy duo “Key & Peele,” who also wrote the screenplay. It’s a very strong debut as he takes satirical elements and places them into a story which ratchets up the intensity throughout and keeps it up to the end. But Peele doesn’t just give us a flat-out satire as he never set out to play everything just for laughs. He digs deep and touches at our own preconceptions of race in America and plays around with the unintentional ways we reveal ourselves to be more prejudice than we ever realized.

Daniel Kaluuya, whom you might remember from “Sicario” and “Kick-Ass 2,” is excellent as Chris, a young man caught up in a situation we hope he fully comprehends before it is too late. He also has good chemistry with Allison Williams to where you can’t doubt they are believable as a couple. “Get Out” also has the benefit of having two terrific actors playing Rose’s parents, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. Both have a warm presence here which eventually turns into something more sinister before you even know it.

I especially have to single out Keener as she remains one of the most underrated actors working today, and the scene where she hypnotizes Chris is a huge reminder of that inescapable fact. She doesn’t have to do too much to get our attention, and as Missy, she seduces us to a place we didn’t plan on going to, and it’s a place where we fear we will never rise up from.

There’s also a terrific scene-stealing performance from Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ best friend, Rod Williams, a TSA agent who has seen it all. In any other movie, Rod would be the one to overact in the most annoying way possible, but Howery turns the character into a welcome form of comic-relief the movie needs to ease the at times unbearable tension, and he is hilarious.

In many ways, “Get Out” is a clever riff on movies of the past like “The Stepford Wives” which dealt with the unusual behavior of female residents in a little Connecticut town, and Peel takes risks with the material you wish other filmmakers would take on a more regular basis. What results is a motion picture which is not perfect, but still a very good one which will stay with and unsettle you in the way a good horror movie should. It also plays with the ways white people try to show how non-racist they are and yet fall into an inescapable pit of hypocrisy before they even know it.

And for the record, I’m a white guy and I would definitely have voted for Barrack Obama for a third term as President. Think what you will of that statement. I’m just going to leave it here.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

Harry Treadaway Discusses Keeping the Suspense Strong in ‘Honeymoon’

honeymoon-harry-treadaway-as-paul

Directed by Leigh Janiak, “Honeymoon” is a taut horror movie which stars Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie as a newly married couple who spend their honeymoon in a secluded cabin by the lake where things soon become very chaotic. One night he wakes up to find that his wife is not in bed, and he eventually finds her sleepwalking in the woods. She doesn’t remember how she got there, but then strange things begin to happen as she suddenly forgets how to make coffee, burns the food while cooking it, and ends up swimming in the lake despite it being incredibly cold. The husband begins to wonder if this is the same person he just married, and the movie keeps you wondering the same exact thing all the way to the very end.

For me, “Honeymoon” was fascinating because a lot of horror and thriller movies these days have a hard time maintaining such a strong level of tension and suspense. The way I see it, pulling this feat off could not have been the least bit easy for either the director or the actors. I came out of it desperately wanting to know how they succeeded in keeping things tense throughout, and I got my chance at the press day for “Honeymoon” which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California.

Treadaway has appeared in movies like “City of Ember,” “Fish Tank” and “The Lone Ranger,” and people these days probably know him best as Victor Frankenstein on the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful.” I asked him what it was like maintaining the suspense of “Honeymoon” as an actor, and his response showed how much thought he put into his role.

“I think it came from the great script. It came from the fact that it was set up with this foundation of reality and the horror came through,” Treadaway said. “The trickiest parts were the sort of middle ground almost because you kind of have to look at how you can tell that this is a happy relationship, and you kind of see where it’s got to be when it’s at its most horrific. But it’s won or lost probably in the way we see his first reaction to her going sleepwalking. If you buy that or not and if you buy the way that he’s reacting to her certain motor neuron skills slightly going weird or her forgetting certain elements of making coffee, you don’t just flip out straight away and go ‘you’ve lost your mind’ and you don’t ignore it. So, it’s how you work your way through that, and I think that was in the script and that was the fun part, playing with the elements.”

“Honeymoon” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital. For horror fans, it’s a real treat.

honeymoon-movie-poster

Save

Leigh Janiak on Her Directorial Debut, ‘Honeymoon’

honeymoon-leigh-janiak-photo

With the horror film “Honeymoon,” Leigh Janiak gives us one of the strongest directorial debuts I have seen in a while. It stars Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie as Paul and Bea, a newlywed couple who spend their honeymoon at a beautiful cabin overlooking the river only to see their new beginning descend into chaos as sinister forces begin to tear them apart. For a first-time filmmaker, Janiak never takes a wrong step as she generates strong levels of suspense and horror and succeeds in maintaining them all the way to the movie’s infinitely creepy conclusion.

Janiak dropped by the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California for the “Honeymoon” press day just before the movie was released. She studied creative writing and comparative religion at New York University, and then she later enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago which dealt with modern Jewish studies with an emphasis on violence and identity in post–World War II Hebrew literature. It was there her interest in movies skyrocketed after she met a group of student filmmakers known as Far Escape Films. As a result, she dropped out of her doctoral studies and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career making movies.

Many wondered what horror movies inspired “Honeymoon” as well as which ones are her favorites. In regards to inspirations, her answer was a bit of a surprise.

“Well certainly ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ is the most kind of thematically influential on it,” Janiak said. “‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Shining,’ those are kind of my favorite horror films generally. I like grounded horror where you really spend time with the characters and you get to this place of uncomfortableness.”

For myself, I was very interested in finding out how she maintained the suspense throughout “Honeymoon.” I kept waiting for the movie to make a wrong turn which would ruin everything which came before it, but that never happened. For a first time director, she really kept us on the edge of our seats throughout in a way I didn’t expect. I asked her how she managed to accomplish this feat.

“I think that the reason that works is because Harry and Rose’s characters are each transforming in different ways,” Janiak said. “So it was only challenging in so far as knowing that Rose would be on one page for her character internally and Harry is on a completely different one. We have to make them still interacting and keeping these things from one another so we recognize that as an audience we sense the unease. We sense things are going wrong with each of them even though we don’t know what and just making it feel like ‘okay enough. We know something secret is happening.’ It was just about balancing their transformations.”

After the interview ended, I asked Janiak which version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” she likes the best. There have been four different cinematic adaptations of Jack Finney’s novel “The Body Snatchers,” the most recent being the 2007 movie “The Invasion,” and she said she enjoyed the first two versions the most but the one with Kevin McCarthy, the 1956 version directed by Don Siegel, is her favorite

Here’s hoping that we get to see many more movies from Leigh Janiak in the near future. “Honeymoon” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

honeymoon-movie-poster-2

Honeymoon

honeymoon-movie-poster

Honeymoon” starts off with us viewing the pre-wedding video of Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie), and it’s the kind of video couples end up watching on their 10th anniversary. It also helps set up Paul and Bea as the perfect couple, and the chemistry between the actors is very strong to where we are eager to spend a lot of time with them.

For their honeymoon, these two lovebirds elect to spend it in a cabin on the lake. As is the case with horror movies, the weekend they pick to vacation at this cabin also happens to be when everybody else is out of town.

To be honest, the cabin they end up staying at is really beautiful. It’s not like those ratty old cabins we’ve seen in the “Evil Dead” movies, but instead the kind my parents always liked to take me and my bother to on family vacations. It has a docking station for a boat and all the amenities like a stove which any cabin requires. And, of course, it is located in an area of the United States which doesn’t get very good cell phone reception, if any.

Paul and Bea are having the time of their lives, but things take a strange turn when Bea suddenly goes missing and Paul finds her out in the woods naked and disoriented. She has no idea of how she got there, and Paul takes her back to the cabin. From there, Bea begins to act very strangely and Paul begins to wonder if she is the same person he just married. As her bizarre behavior escalates, strange things start happening like shafts of light invading the seemingly peaceful cabin, and scissors being used in ways almost as painful as what we witnessed in Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist.”

I kept waiting for “Honeymoon” to fall apart. The suspense keeps building and building throughout, and I feared the movie would eventually mess things up by revealing too much. The fact it doesn’t is a testament to director Leigh Janiak who keeps ratcheting up the tension just when you think it’s on the verge of disintegrating. According to her IMDB page, Janiak has worked mostly as an assistant to various movie producers, and “Honeymoon” marks her directorial debut. I honestly find this to be a very impressive debut as she avoids a lot of rookie mistakes many filmmakers tend to make their first time out. She also doesn’t rely on a lot of blood and gore (although there is a bit of them here and there), and she instead lets the characters drive the movie while creating an atmosphere which makes you feel increasingly isolated from everything and everybody else.

I’m not familiar with Rose Leslie’s work as an actress, partly because I haven’t watched “Game of Thrones” which she has appeared on. On top of giving us a perfect American accent, she makes her character of Bea very down to earth to where we shudder as she endures things no human being should ever have to. She also has a very natural and appealing quality which makes us care even more about her horrific predicament. It’s a surprise to learn this is one of her very first movies as she shows a confidence in front of the camera which takes a long time to build up, and I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

Treadaway, whom you might remember from the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful,” also turns in an equally strong performance as Paul. While a lot of actors in horror movies tend to emote more than act, you can tell Treadaway isn’t faking a single emotion we see him experiencing onscreen. He drags us almost forcefully into Paul’s mindset as he desperately tries to help the love of his life, and he makes you feel his desperation as it becomes increasingly evident time is running out for him to do so.

“Honeymoon” ends on an ambiguous note which may drive some audience members who want everything spelled out for them crazy, but it shows just how effective Janiak’s work as a director is. She keeps stringing us along and keeps us intrigued all the way through, and the movie’s final moment taps into our own dark and primal fears. There are no easy answers, only an inevitability the characters try to resist.

Everyone involved in “Honeymoon’s” production clearly had more on their mind than just giving you the same old thing. It deserves a much bigger audience than it has received so far. My hope is horror fans will check it out sooner rather than later.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)

tattoo Final 27x40.indd

You look at her from a distance, and all you see is just another punk chick who’s nothing but trouble; born under a bad sign. You’d figure she’s pierced her body in lord only knows how many different places, and the mascara applied to her eyes might make you see her as an intimidating threat. Not once does she try to adjust her antisocial behavior or clothing attire in the workplace, and this is a sign of how unwilling she is to compromise her learned set of values.

But once you get to know her, you will find Lisbeth Salander is not your average punk rock girl. In fact, she’s a brilliant hacker and researcher who knows more about yourself than you could possibly realize. Bo Diddley was right when he said you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. I mean you could, but she would just kick your ass because a rough upbringing has more than prepared her for the harsh reality of life.

Lisbeth Salander is the heroine of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a brilliant mystery/thriller based on the best-selling novel by the late Stieg Larsson. Many have said Noomi Rapace gives a star making performance as Lisbeth, and nothing could be more true. She finds the heart of this incredibly intelligent yet mysterious character whose past is hinted at but never explained until the end, but we come to get enough of a glimpse which helps us understand where she is coming from. Lisbeth sets the bar high in terms of compelling characters (and not just females) you can find in movies from any country.

Right from the start, this film absorbs us in its compelling mystery involving the case of a missing girl which has remained unsolved for 40 years. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the publisher of Millennium Magazine, is coming off of a trial where he was wrongfully disgraced, and soon after he is hired by rich man Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) who wants him to look into the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet who was last seen years ago when she was only 16. Henrik believes Harriet was murdered by someone in his family, and it’s a very dysfunctional family filled with those who will fight one other for the whole inheritance without a single thought for anyone else.

Please believe me when I say “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” puts so many American movies of this genre to utter shame. Seriously, many of the mystery thrillers I have seen in the past few years are full of plot holes Michael Bay could lead both Autobots and Decepticons through no matter how enormous they are. Instead of being enthralled, we come out of them feeling like they are average at best, but they do allow us to feel smarter than the filmmakers since we spotted all their foolish mistakes.

Compared to all those wannabes, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has a very well-constructed plot to where if it is at all flawed, we certainly don’t realize it because we are too caught up with what’s unfolding onscreen. But where this movie truly succeeds is as a character piece in how deeply it involves us in the lives of two very different people. The two main characters are well developed and are very complex, something I always look forward to seeing. Lisbeth is a wounded person, damaged by life, and the trust she puts in others is exceedingly rare. These two end up coming together as Lisbeth has been hacking into Mikael’s computer as part of his case, and she ends up giving him some clues which have eluded him. While she is hesitant to get involved with Mikael professionally or emotionally, he points out how she contacted him in a way that is easy to track.

Lisbeth and Mikael are indeed an odd couple, and yet perfectly matched to work on the coldest of cases. They are also coming together at a time where they are in a very isolated state, having been largely misunderstood by just about everyone around them. While many view them negatively, they come to see one another as who they really are. The more they work together, the more they gain each other’s trust. In the large scheme of things, these are two people who do not let others define them.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was directed by Niels Arden Oplev, a three-time award-winning director from Denmark. He deserves a lot of credit for keeping us deeply involved in a movie that could have easily overstayed its welcome. Not once did I find myself getting bored or restless while watching it. Oplev balances out the story and the acting to where they are on equal footing and never upstaged by style. Never does he indulge in quirky camera angles or other visual elements which would have taken away from this movie. Some directors just love to show off instead of just trusting what is there, and Oplev has clearly laid his complete trust in the story and the actors cast.

Noomi Rapace brings a powerful life force to Lisbeth Salander, a character destined to become as iconic as Clarice Starling from “The Silence of the Lambs.” Beneath her hard exterior is a person whose trust in others is practically non-existent for reasons which eventually become clear. Rapace more than succeeds in making Lisbeth tough as well as sympathetic. Her performance could easily have been a caricature, but she proves to be far too good of an actress to allow this to happen.

Michael Nyqvist does excellent work as Mikael Blomkvist, showing his strong resolve and utter frustration without ever going overboard in his performance. When he is first shown to the audience, it is as a man who has just been found guilty. We don’t know why at first, so we can only assume he had it coming or perhaps he was framed. We see him walking down the street when his picture comes up on television, pretty much defining him in the eyes of those who do not know him personally. But Nyqvist invests his character with a strong moral code which he never surrenders even when it seems smart for him to do so. We sympathize with Mikael as it always seems the wealthiest of people are more than willing to smash down the individual, especially when said individual is correct in what he or she discovers about them. The truth always seems to come at a heavy price.

Peter Andersson doesn’t even try to hide the hideous slime that consumes his utterly immoral character of Bjurman, a sexually abusive bastard who takes advantage of Lisbeth in the worst way possible. Even worse, he is her new legal guardian who takes charge of her trust fund after her original guardian suffers a stroke. Not to worry though, the pain Bjurman inflicts on Lisbeth comes back at him in a most vicious way, showing us once again what you see on the surface does not even begin to tell you the whole story.

Two sequels based on Stieg Larsson’s follow up novels have already been made, and I eagerly await the opportunity to see them on the big screen. They will have a tough act to follow after “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but with Rapace and Nyqvist reprising their roles, they will continue one of the more interesting and unusual partnerships you can hope to find in cinematic history.

It will be interesting to see who will be the next idiotic human being who foolishly thinks they have complete control over Lisbeth. Even more interesting will be in what way Lisbeth lets said person know just how wrong they are. Pray for whoever it is.

* * * * out of * * * *