Ever since she broke out in the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the movies haven’t quite known what to do with Noomi Rapace.
If you want to appreciate Rapace’s exceptional portrayal of goth hacker heroine Lisbeth Salander in “Dragon Tattoo," watch how Rooney Mara and Claire Foy played Salander in the Americanized versions. They were fine, but depicted Salander as a deliberately strange, “other” sort of character.
Rapace, on the other hand, played the brilliant, feral Salander as if she was completely normal. Because to herself, she was — there was nobody else she could be.
Since then, Rapace has gone to Hollywood and bounced from generic roles in blockbusters (“Prometheus,” “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”) and low-rent action films (“Dead Man Down”). The cheesy action sci-fi Netflix film “What Happened to Monday?” gave her the chance to play seven different characters, which was fun. But nothing has really captured the mix of vulnerability and ferocity that Rapace can bring to a role.
Until “Close,” a new action film from writer-director Vicky Jewson that premieres Friday on Netflix. It’s not perfect. But it gives Rapace the kind of showcase she deserves, and it’s a rare action film led by women both in front of and behind the camera.
Rapace plays Sam, a professional bodyguard equally adept at protecting celebrities on vacations or journalists in war zones. In a prologue, we see her protect a pair of journalists in Iraq who are ambushed in the desert. The action is brutal and efficient, with Sam calmly dispatching three insurgents one by one.
Sam’s next assignment is to protect a rich heiress named Zoe (Sophie Nelisse) whose father has died, putting her in the middle of a corporate skirmish between her family’s phosphate mining company and a rival firm. Sam takes Zoe to the family’s fortress-like mansion on the outskirts of Casablanca. But when a team of assassins breach the mansion’s security and attempt to kidnap Zoe, Sam takes the spoiled teenager on the run while trying to figure out who is targeting them.
“Close” is an appropriate name for a movie in which the violence is so intimate and visceral, with fight scenes that make the viewer feel every blow. A protracted, bloody hand-to-hand fight in a hotel room, in which Sam and her assailant each scrabble to get the upper hand, is particularly nasty. Jewson isn’t interested in making Sam’s world seem glamorous, but to keep the action as authentic as possible and show its aftereffects on Sam’s psyche.
At the same time, the movie is quite beautiful to watch, from a kaleidoscopic opening credits sequence scored to a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” to a gorgeous underwater fight, with a school of fish flitting around the combatants.
Jewson and co-writer Rupert Whitaker effectively develop the bond between Sam and Zoe, which has echoes of a mother-daughter relationship, if a mother was teaching her daughter things like how to strangle an attacker or evade a kidnapper.
Unfortunately, “Close” ends rather abruptly, failing to satisfy on either an action or emotional level. But up until that disappointing ending, “Close” stays in your face.
Also on streaming: “Grace & Frankie” return for Season 5 on Friday, with more foul-mouthed friendship courtesy of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. In Season 5, they band together against the indignities brought on by their adult children and take advantage of California’s loosening cannabis laws.
Brenda Blethyn is back as Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope in the second season of “Vera,” which returned Monday on BritBox. One of the nice perks of having a U.S. streaming service co-owned by the BBC and ITV is that American audiences get these new episodes mere hours after they premiere across the pond.