DIR: Niels Arden Oplev • WRI: J.H. Wyman • PRO: David Hoberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Todd Lieberman, Hugo Shong, Andy Yan • DOP: Paul Cameron • ED: Timothy A. Good, Frédéric Thoraval • DES: Niels Sejer • Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard
Director Niels Arden Oplev’s American theatrical debut Dead Man Down is disappointingly devoid of all the edgy appeal of his acclaimed Swedish feature The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Set in New York, Colin Farrell plays the brooding and broken Hungarian immigrant Victor, who infiltrates the gang who killed his family in order to exact his bloody revenge. However, Victor’s plan is interrupted when his neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) discovers his dark secret and contracts him into a scheme to seek out her own grisly vengeance against the drunk driver who ruined her life.
Dead Man Down is unevenly paced throughout, at times simmering with the slow-burning intensity of a Scandinavian thriller before being catapulted forward with spectacles of explosions and ‘shoot ’em ups’ more at home in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.
The film gets off to a lingering start with a heartfelt speech about the meaning of life from Farrell’s friend and fellow mob henchman, a heavily tattooed Dominic Cooper. Ominous close-ups of Farrell’s anguished face and Thespian eyebrows convey most of the dramatic intensity in the first 20 minutes and we settle in for what we expect to be a calculated, grim and gritty crime thriller.
Then all hell breaks loose with a great deal of gunfire, Albanian mobsters sporting AK-47s in broad daylight, much clichéd dialogue between clichéd villains and a flashy finale that involves the hero crashing through the front of a house to save his girl.
The plot is filled with twists and turns that occasionally defy logic and more than once Oplev and screenwriter J.H. Wyman (The Mexican, TV’s Fringe) breeze over weaknesses in the plot to move the film along.
Farrell has only been living in New York for a couple of years and yet has a flawless Yankee accent (for an Irish actor) with no trace of his Hungarian roots. This is briskly explained by Farrell in the film when asked by Rapace where his Hungarian accent went, ‘I worked hard to get rid of it.’ How convenient.
Rapace, well-versed in playing tormented souls, (her role as the damaged Lisbeth Saunders in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was widely applauded), plays a woman so ‘disfigured’ by a car crash that the local scallywags throw stones at her and scrawl ‘Monster’ on her front door and yet, even with a few pink scars on her face, the Swedish actress is still more beautiful than most women on the planet.
Victor spends two years playing cat and mouse with the gang who murdered his wife and child, picking them off one by one and saving his full wrath for crime boss Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). Yet in all his painstakingly intricate and cautious planning, kills one gang member in his own apartment in full view of anyone who happens to be looking out of the window of the huge tower block of flats opposite. A supposedly fragile Beatrice films the whole thing on her phone before boldly securing a date with her known-murderer neighbour and insistently blackmailing him.
These inconsistencies (and they don’t end there) may have been easier to overlook if the film was brought to a clever and compelling ending, but the showy climax that resembles scenes from a Die Hard movie will disappoint an audience hoping for something better crafted.
Dead Man Down is a classic example of the actors outshining the film they were cast in. Farrell is a good enough actor to play this role in his sleep and yet the film doesn’t draw out his talents above and beyond the paint-by-numbers vested avenger character he was cast as. Rapace, whose interpretation of the complex Saunders in The Girl with... is also wasted in this role, and yet, it is the offbeat and tender romance between Victor and Beatrice, urged along by Beatrice’s quirky mother (Isabelle Huppert) that is the most watchable thing about the whole film.
15A (see IFCO website for details)
Dead Man Down is released on 3rd May 2013