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A thriller that follows two siblings who decide to fend for themselves in the wake of a botched casino heist, and their unlikely reunion during another family's Thanksgiving celebration.
For more about Deadfall and the Deadfall Blu-ray release, see Deadfall Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on February 17, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam, Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Treat Williams
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
» See full cast & crew
Deadfall Blu-ray Review
Snowy neo-noir meets dysfunctional family drama.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, February 17, 2013
For an initial reference point, think of a less funny, more serious Fargo. There might not be a wood-chipper here, but we do get a high-speed barbwire garroting, a lopped off pinky finger cauterized on a snowmobile's sizzling engine manifold, and all manner of humorless, wince-inducing violence. The noir-ish Deadfall takes place in Michigan's rural Upper Peninsula during a pre-Thanksgiving whiteout blizzard, and its tone is just as chilly as its setting. Writer Zach Dean and director Stefan Ruzowitzky—an Austrian whose 2007 drama The Counterfeiters won that year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film—tell a frostbitten tale of con-artists and familial dysfunction, anonymous motel sex and cold-blooded murder. It's a good old-fashioned thriller, and this is both its main strength and its key weakness. On one hand, barring some clumsy dialogue, the film is sharply made—tense, sexy, gorgeously shot—but on the other, it feel entirely conventional. It characters are familiar types. Its narrative turns come with the territory. It never really surprises or shocks. Deadfall is best approached, then, as a B-movie diversion; it's good for an hour and a half of entertainment, but it's not going to stick with you.
The film opens with a nicely barbed narrative hook. Brother and sister con-artists Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) —the latter a reluctant neophyte criminal—are on the lam after stealing a significant amount of money from a tribal casino. "It's a good sign to feel a little bad," Addison says to his little sis, who's leafing through twenty-dollar bills in the back seat, and at this moment their car hits an icy patchy, flies over an embankment— sending cash fluttering confetti-like in slow motion—and lands upside down in a snowy field. They extricate themselves just as a cop pulls up to investigate, and Addison promptly guns the officer down. Knowing they're more suspicious together, they agree to split up and plan to reunite near the Canadian border. Liza gets the raw end of this deal; while Addison quickly scores a snowmobile and cow-hide jacket after knifing a Native American trapper, she's left shivering by the roadside in a slinky sequined dress and heels, playing the part of stranded traveler.
As is common in thrillers of this ilk, the story features a fairly large cast of characters whose lives intersect by fate and/or human machination. In a variation on his bad boy Sons of Anarchy role, Charlie Hunnam plays Jay, a one-time silver medalist boxer who somehow landed in prison after taking a dive in a fight. (Wouldn't he just be fined or banned from the ring? Jail seems like a stretch.) Merely hours after being paroled on good behavior, he confronts his former manager, accidentally bashes the back of the guy's head in on a filing cabinet—he may or may not be dead—and flees the scene.
With nowhere else to go, Jay drives towards his parent's house, which is—you guessed it—right on the U.S./Canadian border. He's not looking forward to seeing his father (Kris Kristofferson), who views him as a disappointment, but his mom (Sissy Spacek) is overjoyed that her boy will be home just in time for Thanksgiving. En route, Jay inevitably picks up Liza, who flirts her way into a ride north but soon—trapped at a motel with the roads closed— finds herself legitimately falling for the hunky bruiser, not to mention questioning her nascent life of crime. Of course, neither knows the other's secret; they're playing a game of husband/wife roleplaying, not expecting real emotions to enter the mix.
Meanwhile, Addison disrupts a domestic dispute, holes up in a backwoods shack for the night, and leaves a trail of bodies the next morning in the wake of his stolen snowmobile. In pursuit is Hannah (Kate Mara), a young female cop trying to break through the force's institutional sexism and prove herself to her overprotective police chief dad (Treat Williams). You may have noticed by now that there are a lot of broken families in this film, to the extent that it gets to feel like too forced of a theme. It's almost as if Dean and Ruzowitzky said, "Well, this is a pretty generic thriller so far. What can we do to make it about something?" Hannah deals with a father who refuses to treat her as an equal, Jay and his grumble-puss of a dad barely speak—seriously, Kris Kristofferson makes the ultimate grumble-puss—and even Addison and Liza seem to have a weird, sexually charged, possibly incestuous past. All of these main players converge on Jay's parent's house for a Thanksgiving none of them will ever forget.
We probably will, though. Deadfall is one of those films that's good enough to keep you watching but not quite great enough to make much of a lasting impact—the sort of movie you might thoroughly enjoy on late night cable but forget the name of the following day. I don't necessarily mean this in a disparaging way; it's more a matter of keeping expectations in check. But here's what you can expect: 1.) A dead-sexy, pouty mouthed, femme fatale Olivia Wilde, which may be enough for some potential viewers to be sold. 2.) Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek as the most loveably curmudgeonly old couple to grace the screen in recent memory. 3.) Charlie Hunnam getting a knife stuck through his hand and into a table, then flipping said table in rage when he hulks out in a fit of adrenaline. 4.) Eric Bana as a sly, dangerous charmer with a southern accent, a la Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. 5.) Did I mention Olivia Wilde is ever so briefly nude?
Deadfall Blu-ray, Video Quality
Deadfall lands on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that seems true to source and intent. The movie was shot predominantly on 35mm—using a fast, fairly chunky film stock—with occasional digital footage from a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR. On the whole, the image is quite grainy and subsequently a little soft. That said, there's more than adequate fine high definition detail here where it counts, with closeups that reveal tight textures in, say, Olivia Wilde's knit cap, or the rugged, scruffy landscape of Charlie Hunnam's face. The film's color palette is appropriately chilly, with lots of blustery grays and muted blues, but daylight and interior scenes are typically more vivid. Saturation is good, but the contrast— and this is a subjective opinion—can sometimes be too skewed towards heavy black levels. (Though never oppressively so.) I didn't notice any real encode or compression issues, but the thickness of grain structure would make compression artifacts difficult to spot anyway. There's at least no sign of DNR, edge enhancement, or other unnecessary forms of filtering.
Deadfall Blu-ray, Audio Quality
If there's one noise that characterizes Deadfall, it's cold wind gusting through the soundfield, carrying snow with a low howl. You'll hear this frequently in the film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which makes good use of the rear channels for trapped-in-a-blizzard immersion. You'll also hear roaring engines and directional gunshots, truck stop ambience and crackling fire. The mix is clear and forceful through, and dynamically varied, with throttling sub-woofer output when called for and tight highs. The opening car crash, particularly, is a one-two sonic suckerpunch. The uneasy score by Marco Beltrami (The Hurt Locker) ties it all together, and dialogue is consistently clean and easy to understand. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Deadfall Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Deadfall Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Deadfall might not break any new ground for the thriller genre, but it is a small-scale story told well, an icy rural noir with family drama and snowmobile chases, cruel violence and a a sexy Olivia Wilde having sexy sex with Jax Teller...er, uh, Charlie Hunnam. (Hopefully, he'll get some different sorts of roles after the exposure of appearing in the upcoming Pacific Rim.) The casting of a Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek as an old married couple was a nice touch, and Eric Bana makes for the sort of slick villain you simultaneously admire and loathe. Magnolia's Blu- ray release is solid on all sides, with a strong audio/video presentation and plenty of extras. If you've got money in your Blu-ray budget this month, sure, go for it, but if not, rent or stream it sometime; it's worth 90-odd minutes of your time.
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