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Dead Man Down

2013 | 118 min | R | 2.39:1

Dead Man Down


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Theatrical release date

 08 March, 2013
 03 May, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Dead Man Down Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 8, 2013

It’s extremely frustrating to watch “Dead Man Down.” Frustrating because there are so many bright, inventive production participants making very dim decisions with suspense and action, turning a promising thriller about instability and revenge into a gun-worshiping DTV-esque downer. Teasing complexity and a sincere pass at full-bodied characterizations, “Dead Man Down” has the raw materials to redirect steadfast genre elements into new and interesting directions. Director Niels Arden Oplev only manages to tease potential, strangely second-guessing himself as he brings a crude script to life. For every step forward, Oplev takes two steps backwards, consistently undermining the positive aspects of the picture by remaining so slavish to its palpable stupidity.

A goon working enforcement detail for crime boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard), Victor (Colin Farrell) is a man full of secrets, trying to remain unnoticed by his employer and his friend, Darcy (Dominic Cooper). Striking up a strange relationship with apartment neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), Victor is careful to share his life with the withdrawn woman, who’s still working through the pain of facial surgeries needed to repair damaged caused by a drunk driver. As the two begin to establish trust, Beatrice hits Victor with a request: to kill the man who disfigured her. Using video evidence of a hit Victor orchestrated, Beatrice hopes to blackmail the murderer into an arrangement. Instead of resistance, Victor agrees to take care of the problem, pushing the scarred woman to investigate the hitman further, stumbling on a revelation of purpose that puts them both in the line of fire, marked for death by Alphonse’s crew and a squad of nasty Albanians.

Oplev is perhaps best known as the director of the original movie adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which starred Rapace as the infamous Lisbeth Salander. The magic they created with that wonderfully curt, stylish thriller is not replicated in “Dead Man Down,” which introduces Oplev to the Hollywood filmmaking scene. The feature does carry a European tone of warm-blooded rage and eyebrow-quaking longing, but there’s simply not enough of a personality to bring the script, credited to J.H. Wyman (“The Mexican”), to a sufficient boil.

To its credit, Wyman’s plot is enticingly intricate and his narrative structure choppy enough to keep secrets sealed until the final act. “Dead Man Down” is not an easy film to summarize, containing numerous secrets about Victor and Beatrice that add to the experience, shifting around loyalties and sympathies with some degree of success. It’s not a whodunit, but a whytheydunit, with a healthy shot of tragedy fueling the elaborate revenge fantasy in play, motivating the characters into position without much fuss. It’s Wyman’s dialogue that’s disappointing, discovering artificial exchanges of intent and personal ache that stiffens the movie, coming off too prepared while the effort likes to flirt with a more feral attitude. Perhaps keeping the ensemble silent would’ve been the optimal course of action, finding Ferrell, Rapace, and Howard wonderfully expressive when called on to project the mood of the scene. It’s their conversations that bleed out “Dead Man Down” more than necessary, verbally articulating desires best left unspoken, at least with the leaden scripting Wyman provides.

“Dead Man Down” is a bruiser, and one that likes to indulge chaos from time to time, shattering credibility once Victor becomes an action figure capable of pulling off assassinations in broad daylight in front of witnesses in the middle of NYC. Oplev craves the big bullety show, and he stages plenty of showdowns that emphasize big guns and near-misses. It’s a violent picture, burning with vengeful plans and taunting baddies, yet at the core of the effort is a quest to establish a romantic connection between Victor and Beatrice, two broken souls looking to fill up the emptiness of their hearts with bloodshed. Some tender moments sneak into “Dead Man Down,” but nothing catches fire, even with comfortable chemistry shared by the lead performers.

“Dead Man Down” is fully lobotomized for its final act, issuing slam-bang nonsense to charm viewers left cold by the unexpected sensitivity of the piece -- possibly trying to win over the demographic co-financier World Wrestling Entertainment entices into theaters. After teasing the audience with an unusual route of intimidation throughout the picture, “Dead Man Down” abandons subtlety in favor of car crashes and gunplay, topped off with a cackling villain and a damsel in distress. Oplev loses control of tone and purpose to make things go boom, making it extremely difficult to recall the positive aspects of this unsteady, chunky thriller.

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Colin Farrell, Dominic Cooper, Terrence Howard, Armand Assante, Isabelle Huppert
Director: Niels Arden Oplev

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