AUSTIN NORDIC FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Dirk Sonniksen | February 26, 2011
Director: Laurence Lowenthal
It would not be an overstatement to say that the appearance of Stieg Larrson’s crime/fiction trio is something of an epic event. The Millennium Trilogy is the Harry Potter of crime fiction; it’s like reading a tasty Cormac McCarthy novel, only with punctuation; in fact, in a way it’s crime fiction for smart people, or at least people who think they are smart.
Considering the planet’s (yes, the entire damn planet!) unquenchable appetite for more, more, more of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, it is not out of the realm of possibility that we will soon see Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist action figures turning up in Happy Meals (I can see it now: “I’ll trade you a Dragan Armanskij for a Dirch Frode”). Then again, I’m guessing the literacy rate for the fast food demographic is fairly low, so perhaps that really is a stretch.
I admit I count myself among the millions who find Larsson’s books irresistible. So when I heard of the Stieg Larsson documentary showing at the Austin Nordic Film Festival, I came to the preemptive conclusion that it was likely to be my favorite of the films I would see that day. Unfortunately, the only unique quality I could find in this documentary was that it was the only film in English.
With all the hubbub about Larsson circulating these days (his untimely death, the legal battle over his estate, and the rumor that his girlfriend, not Larsson, actually penned the novels), you might assume that Millennium: The Story would be a fascinating look at a fascinating guy. You would be wrong.
Millennium does indeed delve into some of the more interesting aspects of Larsson’s life. After all, Larsson’s somewhat extreme political views (Sarah Palin would have hated this guy) are covered with some detail, as well as his tenure with Expo Magazine, an anti-racist publication (yeah, Sarah Palin’s followers would have hated him, too). As a result of his work exposing Nazis in Sweden, Larsson (and other Expo staff members) received frequent death threats, and Larsson himself seemed to live a somewhat Jason Bourne-esque kind of existence, mapping out secret routes to his home and, for the most part, living on the run.
I know what you’re thinking: how could this documentary not be great with all of that exciting stuff in it? Well, because that’s ALL of the exciting stuff, and there’s not much of it. I gave you the good part first to keep you reading; now I’m going to drag you into the depths of Hell.
What ultimately makes the Stieg Larsson documentary such a snorefest is the tedious look at Larsson’s rise to fame. First, a photo of young Stieg (yawn), then a conversation with his dad and brother (super-yawn), and finally the filmmakers go inside the (yes, THE) publishing house that finally accepted Larsson’s trilogy. Of all the boring aspects of this film, this was by far the worst. Here we meet the woman who edited Larsson’s manuscript; yes, it’s that exciting. First we have an unnecessarily long shot following her down the hall to her office; then she sits down in her chair; then she mumbles something in half-Swedish, half-broken English; then she pulls out Larsson’s original manuscript. I’m assuming that at this point there should be audible “ooohs,” or “ahs” from the audience, but the sound may have been drowned out by me grinding my teeth with boredom and impatience. I could go on and on and on…but let’s stop, shall we?
There is certainly a market for a documentary chronicling the life and work of Stieg Larsson. The legal battle between his girlfriend and Larsson’s father and brother alone would make for a compelling mini-series. Larsson’s courageous stance against all things wrong with the world is worthy of a documentary in and of itself. In fact, a talented filmmaker could make a story of Larsson’s life without even including The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Unfortunately, director Laurence Lowenthal, the director of Millennium, is not that guy. Lowenthal has thrown together a disjointed, haphazard collection of film clips that seemed more an attempt at getting something (anything) out the door for audiences, and less like a concise representation (and yes, perhaps homage) of Larsson’s life. I haven’t given up hope that a filmmaker could still best Lowenthal’s documentary, but whether that comes to fuition could depend on how long the Millennium Trilogy can maintain its winning streak.