The History Place - Movie Review

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

By Jim Castagnera
Special to The History Place

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the third installment of a Swedish film trilogy, based upon a series of novels with the same names.  The hornet’s nest of the title is a super-secret Cold War cell, known as The Section, buried so deep in the Swedish bureaucracy that even the prime minister is unaware of it.  The Section was established, as one of its original members puts it, to deal with those national security issues no one else has the guts to touch.

The issue of greatest magnitude was a Soviet defector named Zalachenko.  Zalachenko is, among many other things, the father of Lisbeth Salander, the “girl” of the trilogy.  When film three opens, father and daughter are hospitalized in the same ward of a rural hospital, having unsuccessfully attempted to murder one another during the climax of The Girl Who Played with Fire, reviewed previously – as was film number one, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – in this space.


The aging, infirm Cold Warriors of The Section set out to silence father and daughter in order to preserve their own anonymity.  Meanwhile, Micke Blomkvist, the crusading journalist featured opposite Salander at the center of all three films, is wrapping up the loose ends of an exposé of The Section and its prize turkey, the Soviet defector turned organized crime kingpin, whose Goth daughter just tried to chop off his head.

On the level of an action movie, Hornet’s Nest is on a par with its predecessors, which is to say, darned near perfect.  If you can handle two-plus hours of sub-titles for a third time, the payoff is substantial.  (If not, you can wait on the American version of Dragon Tattoo, starring Daniel Craig, which reportedly began shooting in Stockholm on October 10th.  Whether Craig, too, will give us a trilogy remains to be seen.)

But beyond that, just as Dragon Tattoo dug up memories of Sweden’s less-than-neutral “neutrality” during WWII (when it supplied iron ore to the Third Reich), Hornet’s Nest begs the question of just what did Sweden do during the Cold War.

My limited research indicates that until about 1960, Sweden – officially neutral since it lost Finland to Russia in 1812 – quietly pursued a program to acquire a nuclear weapon.  By the start of the sixties, the cost had become prohibitive.  And though, reportedly, its ability to repel an amphibious assault on its national sovereignty was substantial, defense of its interior territory was woefully wanting.  In other words, Sweden depended for its external security upon the U.S. and NATO.   Indeed, the U.S. Navy regularly stationed nuclear submarines in or near Swedish territorial waters, which placed them at a convenient distance for lobbing Polaris missiles on Moscow, if it ever came to that.

These facts make the premise of Hornet’s Nest – that a defecting KGB agent with a bag full of magic beans to spill was an invaluable chip to ante up in the Great Game – ring with credibility.  Perhaps such a prize, whose information might be dolled out to the CIA, justified an inner sanctum of super-secret spies to handle and protect him.  It might even justify the institutionalization of the 12-year-old Salander, following her incendiary attack on her old man, after he beat up Lisbeth’s mom once too often.

Readers who haven’t read the trilogy in printed form nor seen the first two films are advised to do one or the other before shelling out to see Hornet’s Nest.  The film weaves, and ultimately resolves, several complicated story strands: The Section’s last stand, Salander’s trial for attempted murder, and the ultra-weird Familia Zalachenko, which includes Lisbeth’s psychotic, gigantic half-brother – a sort of Frankenstein monster who can’t feel pain (his own or anyone else’s).

Armed with a bit of background about the preceding two installments, you'll be ready for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the best foreign film I've seen in years.

Rated R for strong violence, some sexual material, and brief language.

Jim Castagnera, a Philadelphia lawyer and freelance journalist, has published 18 books, including Al Qaeda Goes to College: Impact of the War on Terror on American Higher Education (Praeger 2009) and Handbook for Student Law (Peter Lang 2010).

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest - Official Website
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