Kick-ass female film characters can help catapult the rights of women all over the world. They can spend the weekend fighting for their own stability. They can grieve with age and alcohol. Have you fight and kill in her honor. Run a hell of a long way to save your ass. They can bring us violatory revenge on their sexual abusers. And they can also cut your dick off. Welcome to Part IV, make yourselves comfortable.
Lisbeth Salander – – – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Adapted by Steven Zaillian from the Stieg Larsson novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo got the David Fincher treatment, released just two years after the Swedish film. Comparisons between Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara are understandable, but being in love with the latter and being something of a Fincher fanboy I want to here to endorse the 2011 version of Lisbeth Salander.
Smart, introverted computer hacker, under some dodgy legal guardianship, heavily pinned down by emotional and sexual abuse, this is a character with endless depth and strength. Assisting (and background checking) Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to investigate the disappearance of a girl decades earlier, Lisbeth appears self-sufficient, her punk / goth demeanor, distinctly-shaped black hair.
In the meantime, oozing slick, super-cool, Salander dons a disguise in Switzerland, has a subway punch-up, takes a wicked vengeance on her horrid guardian, permanently branding him a rapist via a tattoo, and later rescues Blomkvist from torture and imminent death. She may ride off alone and jilted at the film’s close, but Lisbeth has long since earned the audience’s loyalty. – – – Robin Write
Lisbeth Salander – – – Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
No offense to Rooney Mara and her gritty work in David Fincher’s American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but Noomi Rapace did it first. Surely, there were moviegoers that had a serious case of ‘been there, done that’ when Fincher’s version rolled into theaters around Christmas of 2011.
Lisbeth Salander is the type of character that everyone has an opinion of, and it’s virtually impossible to play that character without drowning out everyone else’s opinion. Noomi Rapace is a fierce animal as Lisbeth in the original version that was released in 2009. Her troubled past almost flashes across her face in every moment of the film. She could be ready to lash out at you or about to slink back into the shadows to the safety of her glowing computer screen. Sorry, Rooney – the original was better. – – – Joey Moser
Sandra Bya – – – Two Days, One Night (2014)
The Dardennes brothers set up the brilliant Two Days, One Night in a matter of moments, your commitment to Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is immediate, a woman faced with losing her job through the votes of her co-workers – they in turn would lose their thousand Euro bonus if she remains. Sandra is vulnerable and in dire mental health, but is in control of her own destiny. She has a supportive husband, and two kids, Sandra has plenty to live for, but poverty is a destructive barrier.
With little left in the tank she still manages to find the strength to walk the streets of her town to approach her colleagues. She is a generous, straight-up woman, she can understand the sensitivity of the situation and everyone’s own social dilemma. Through all the heartache, near-misses, and sheer fight, Sandra achieves her goal, but in a final moment of redemption can stroll onward and upward, taking her own future by the balls. – – – Robin Write
Isadora Duncan – – – Isadora (1968)
Bias alert: Vanessa Redgrave is my favorite actress and her performance as Isadora Duncan in Karel Reisz’s severely mishandled film is arguably her best. Duncan was Mother Earth to the free spirit movement of both personal conduct and artistic expression that became iconic to the counterculture in the 60s, and Redgrave’s performance is nearly as fearless – and flawless – in its execution.
The role was a labor of love for the actress and follows Isadora from her beginnings as a can-can girl in the US to her emergence as a revolutionary in the art of dance across Europe and Soviet Russia in the 1920s, touching on a series of love affairs as they suited her aesthetic and socio-political tastes. The thirty-one-year old Brit actor, Redgrave, shines as the young and fearless Isadora, whether on stage or in bed or anywhere in between.
She truly astonishes as the aging, drunken diva past her prime speaking French with an American accent or tearfully reminiscing about the deaths of her children in a freakish auto accident. One of film history’s finest performances. – – – Steve Schweighofer
Maud Watts – – – Suffragette (2015)
What great power and significance lies in the women’s rights movement early in the twentieth century, depicted through the story of the women’s suffrage in Britain, a film directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan. The devastatingly good Carey Mulligan heads a terrific cast (including Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter), playing laundress Maud Watts, who bit-by-bit builds a determined and unbreakable force to defend the oppressed women of the day’s society.
Maud speaks out to parliament, spends time behind bars, jeopardizes her marriage and custody of he son, is outcast by those she knows, loses her job, and partakes in a horrific hunger strike. Her ruthlessly taking a hot iron to the hand of her sexually violating male employer is a metaphor for the triumph of women as well as a moment to applaud in its own right. Maud refuses to play dead, risking everything for the greater good of the female demographic. Her actions and those of the women fighting the same battle soon changed history forever. – – – Robin Write
Lola – – – Lola rennt (1999)
Eighteen years ago, a German experimental low budget movie called Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run) garnered significant international success and made names out of leading lady Franka Potente, and director Tom Tykwer. He wrote and filmed the movie in less than a year, and the work tempo and energy clearly transferred to the movie.
The movie is split into three almost identical passages, a nod to video game format. Each version differs by a few choices Lola makes, influencing the outcome of each segment. Lola Rennt is set in Berlin in the late 90’s, a time of great change following German re-unification. She passes many building sites, showing a city being reborn, a bit like the running girl getting a new life in each new scene. Lola runs as fast as she can to save her slow-witted boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) from gangsters, and only has 20 minutes to do so.
As you might imagine, the first two attempts end badly, building the suspense for life three. All of her energy is kinetic, ever faster, ever more frantic. The mix of animation and live action works to good effect to underline the video game feel. Potente was not very sporty, a smoker, but that makes her all the more accessible and her determination means you’re rooting for her to make it. The tick tock of the clock running down is the constant reminder that the 20 minutes are almost up. Run Lola run! – – – Henny McClymont
Lucy Burrows – – – Broken Blossoms (1919)
One of the greatest actresses of the era, Lillian Gish, reminds us of the heavy subject matter as well as the timeless entertainment the silent age of cinema provided. In 1919, D.W. Griffith and United Artists brought the tragic tale of Broken Blossoms to the screen. A tale of the young Lucy Burrows, longing to escape the torrid life her physically abusive father, Battling Burrows, a boxer, drags her through.
Lucy meets a Chinese man, Cheng, also on the journey of self-fulfillment, and such an impact she makes on him, he falls in love with her. His devotion to Lucy is clear to see, he does his best to take care of her. When Lucy takes drastic measures to protect herself, Cheng and her father cross paths, resulting in the kind of tragedy Shakespeare could have penned – two men fighting for Lucy Burrows, even after she has departed. So sad the stuff of legends. – – – Robin Write
Margot Tennenbaum – – – The Royal Tennebaums (2001)
The unfluctuating, cold as ice deadpan delivery of every utterance. The thick kohl eyeliner and full length fur coat. Margot is the elusive enigma simultaneously at the edge and heart of the Tenenbaum family, the outcast as well as the eccentric darling.
Not only does she give rise to the cultural understanding that chain smoking and flat denote a certain magnitude of ‘coolness’, but the psychosexual melancholy which is so far ingrained in her regular self lines the very fabric of her being and seethes from the plays she writes. Her carefree dalliances abroad may seem like rebellious promiscuity, but Margot is actually something of a champion of sexual freedom. – – – Rhiannon Topham
Kate Miller – – – Dressed to Kill (1980)
Brian DePalma’s iffy Psycho-ish reboot can boast one thing unequivocally: twenty minutes that contain a grand and brilliant performance by Angie Dickinson as Kate Miller, a classy housewife with an uncontrollable predilection for cruising for hookups in the best places. Most of her performance is contained within a long sequence that begins as a back-and-forth cat-and-mouse game in a museum, moves on to post-coital bliss only to be shocked back into reality and guilt, and eventually panic that leads to her obligatory demise in an elevator.
And all of it told without dialogue, only by expressions that register on Dickinson’s face. It’s a performance I never expected from this actor who somehow, late in her career, managed to snag the part of a lifetime and run with it. – – – Steve Schweighofer
Beth – – – Hostel Part II (2007)
At the start of the gory sequel of Hostel, Lauren German’s Beth is merely an art student on vacation, but by the end she is beheading a callous bitch so children can play football with the head. Eli Roth has a certain grotesque appeal in his writing and directing of Hostel Part II, keeping the same messed up tone as the first, where hostel reception boys scan passport photos for sex / fatality trafficking auctions.
When Beth’s two friends are scalped and scythed, she is entrapped and attempted to be tortured and raped by an American businessman Stuart, but finds it in herself in a deep, dark place none of us would want to encounter, to turn the tables on him. Beth lures Stuart into the chair himself, chaining him, sticks a needle in his ear, before offering the sick, twisted fucks that run this murderous operation her wealth in return for her freedom.
In response to the order she must kill, and Stuart’s c-word insult, Beth slices off his genitals and hurls them to the dogs – as a man my eyes watered. Beth is branded with the Elite Hunting tattoo, in a conclusion that marks a very fucked up can’t beat them, join them notion. – – – Robin Write