A film review by Craig J. Koban March 19, 2013
DEAD MAN DOWN
2013, R, 112 mins.
2013, R, 112 mins.
Colin Farrell: Victor / Noomi Rapace:
Beatrice / Dominic Cooper: / Terrence Howard:
Alphonse / Isabelle Huppert:
though it mournfully devolves into a rather perfunctory and
run-of-the-mill shoot ‘em up conclusion, DEAD MAN DOWN establishes
itself from the get-go as a tense, sophisticated, haunting, and
contemplative character driven neo-revenge thriller. So many other similar Hollywoodized genre efforts place more
emphasis on mindless blood-spattered mayhem and salacious violence –
which, to be fair, DEAD MAN DOWN does contain – but this
vengeance driven film is more compellingly about its two flawed and
semi-doomed characters, both of whom are emotionally broken (one
physically so) and have nothing in their black hearts but a craving for
retribution. Through their
own mutually shared grief, they manage to come together.
script - from J.H. Wyman, who wrote the highly underrated THE MEXICAN and
has also worked as a writer/director on TV’s FRINGE – shows an
uncommon level of patience with establishing all of the particulars.
Twitchy filmgoers may fidget in their seats trying to piece
together the plot particulars at first, but the relative obscurity of the
characters and their relationships to one another – albeit jarring at
first – gives the film a propulsive narrative momentum to the point
where we want to discover all its connective tissue.
DEAD MAN DOWN has an intricate complexity as a result as it keeps
you off-balance, yet alert. As the chief protagonists slowly and surely begin to let
their respective guards down to one another, the secrets of their lives
– and the film’s plot – begin to satisfyingly take form.
Farrell plays Victor, a driven loner that is a member of a gang headed up
Alphonse (Terrance Howard), but we eventually learn that Victor’s
loyalties to his boss are not really pure at all.
Due to a personal tragedy that cost him the lives of his wife and
child, Victor has engaged in a methodically laid out plan to infiltrate
Alphonse’s inner circle and, when the timing is right, kill him and his
entire crew. Everything seems
to be going as planned, that is until he catches the eye of his apartment
high-rise neighbor named Beatrice (the great Swedish actress Noomi Rapace),
who manages to ask the troubled man on a date.
Well, the date ends her blackmailing him: She has mobile-phone
recorded Victor killing one of Alphonse’s men, and she vows to turn it
into the police…that is unless Victor will conspire with her to murder
the man that – while driving drunk – hit her and caused her to be
badly scared on one side of her face.
The culprit got off on a very minimal charge, which has left
Beatrice – like Victor – seriously yearning for payback.
He begrudgingly agrees to help her, but both of their plans hit a
series of unavoidable roadblocks that threatens both of their lives.
like how this film does not rush any potential love story between Victor
and Beatrice, because they both throughout the film seem far too burdened
with their own heartache to even seriously become an item.
These are two broken people that have had their lives shattered by
tragedy, and the level of intimacy that that manage to forge in the film
is not so much erotically driven as it is tentative and cautious.
They both seem to hunger for human contact and someone to connect
with, even though they emotionally are ill equipped and unprepared for
such complications. More than anything, DEAD MAN DOWN is really about the
misfortune of shared misery than it is about love.
Beatrice and Victor do connect, but their linkage comes as a result
of them trying to exorcise personal demons. After that is dealt with, then they begin an actual courtship
has impressed me with just about every performance she has ever given.
She, if you don’t recall, was the original Lisbeth Salander in
the Scandi GIRL WITH THE
DRAGON TATTOO trilogy (still better than the American remake, I
might add), and what continues to amaze me is how she manages to instill a
low key sultriness, animalistic drive, and vulnerability in all of her
roles, and her work here in DEAD MAN DOWN is no exception.
Her chemistry with Farrell is exemplary, as quiet scenes between
them are little masterpieces of performance nuance: they both manage to
convey so much without truly verbalizing anything.
Farrell in particular – one of our most thanklessly decent and
empowered actors - has a manner of playing forcefully introverted men
driven to outward fits of violence and comeuppance without it seeming
MAN DOWN is a fine looking noir, thanks largely to its capable director,
Niels Arden Oplev, who previously worked with Rapace on THE GIRL WITH THE
DRAGON TATTOO and here makes his American directorial debut.
Fortunately, he has not left his European flavored esoteric
fingerprints off of DEAD MAN DOWN, as he carefully calibrates a dark and somber
visual texture to the film that echoes the main character’s drives.
Beyond giving the film a visually arresting edge, Oplev is a real
master of generating suspense in ways that doesn’t involve predictable
and tedious action beats by utilizing the character’s despair and
growing anxieties. Oplev
understands that the film is at its most confident and immersive when
honing in on Farrell’s and Rapace’s fragile interplay.
does make a few missteps along the way, as is the case with building a
film towards so much promise of payoff, only then to have it devolve into
a denouement that relies rather heavily on story contrivances,
coincidences, and beyond perfect timing for all of the characters
involved. At the very least,
Oplev knows how to deliver rip-roaring action and stunts without relying
on queasy cam hysterics or rapid fire editing, but the high octane and
blood spattered finale somewhat betrays the physiological depth that the
story ahead of it maintained. Then
there are issues with logic in Wyman’s screenplay, like, for instance,
how Farrell manages to escape authorities after committing multiple –
and publicly displayed – murders and other criminal acts (police don’t
seem to exist in this film), not to mention that Victor seems to become an
indestructible superman that can do no wrong: he seems like he has been
time-warped from a disposable 1980’s action film.
There are a few other narrative conundrums, like one involving
Alphonse’s plan to discover Victor’s real motives that left me
scratching my head and asking far too many questions.
Yet, DEAD MAN DOWN makes up for these flaws by being a superiorly helmed and enthralling revenge thriller that mostly absconds away from stale American conventions and clichés. The direction is ominous and moody, the performances crackle with intensity, and the tightly calibrated and layered script pays a lot of respect to its intricately rendered characters. In the end, DEAD MAN DOWN is more intimately a tragedy about two lost and dejected people coming together and motivating themselves to seek a morose level of personal justice. So very few recent thrillers maintain as much character depth and interest as this one does.