Dead Man Down Review
Victor and Beatrice form an uneasy allegiance, both suffering the damage from the past
I’m sure that, somewhere in Dead Man Down’s convoluted script, there’s a really good idea desperate to escape the stifling deluge of unnecessary twists and plot contrivances, but it would appear that neither first-time feature writer J.H. Wyman – writer and showrunner for the popular Fox sci-fi series, Fringe – nor acclaimed Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev, making his US debut following on from the massive global success of the vastly superior original Swedish language adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, were prepared to hitch their horses to one specific element and make that stick, instead drowning the viewer in twists in place of suspense and bookending the otherwise unremarkable crime thriller with mildly diverting action sequences.
Kingpin Alphonse Hoyt has been receiving strange messages and would-be death threats from an unnamed source. When bodies start piling up, and his own men start dropping like flies, he desperately searches for the man who has targeted him. The one person he feels that he can trust is loyal enforcer Victor; after all, Victor saved his life. But Victor has some dark secrets, some of which the nosy neighbour living opposite his flat, Beatrice, finds out about. Striking up an unlikely romantically-laced friendship, Victor and Beatrice form an uneasy allegiance, both suffering from the damage that the past has done to them. Unfortunately, the future is not looking any brighter.
I’m sure many will know about or have figured out some or all of the plot twists that Dead Man Down has to offer, but I’ve tried my best to keep this review spoiler free lest I rob what little intrigue this film could provide. The trouble is that the film clearly does not have enough to sustain your interest without resorting to this violent plot-swerving technique. Literally every time you feel like the story is going nowhere – like it’s too derivative and mundane – they throw in a curve-ball in desperate bid to draw you back in.
Whilst some might think that the overall story is quite original, I think it’s actually been done to death; the only difference between this and the numerous films it copies is that it feed the viewer information on a piecemeal basis every time the viewer’s interest starts to wane. It’s an at-times torturous task, which is a shame when you consider the foundation upon which the script appears to have been built. After all, the story is actually little more than the classic Dashiell Hammett noir novel, Red Harvest, put through the blender and mixed with just about any left-for-dead revenge thriller you’ve ever heard of. If you didn’t know, Red Harvest has formed the basic framework for about half a dozen loose film adaptations – as diverse as A Fistful of Dollars and Miller’s Crossing; Yojimbo and Last Man Standing – in that it’s a story about playing two sides off against one another to wipe out both opposing factions.
Whilst some might think that the overall story is quite original, I think it’s actually been done to death
Throw in the aforementioned left-for-dead revenge angle, as well as a strangely abortive Hitchcockian side-story, which could have easily gone all Rear Window and completely driven second act interest, had it been handled – and dismissed – less casually, and you have a whole lot of individually good ideas which simply do not add up to the sum of their parts.
Similarly the cast don’t add up to the sum of their parts – fairly big, recognisable, names who are left hanging by material that simply does not live up to expectations. Colin Farrell should have broody intensity nailed by now, but he just feels lost and vacant at the beginning of the movie and, after that, you never really feel convinced by the convoluted journey which his character is supposed to take you on. He deserves better than this although, after Total Recall, this is still an easy step up.
Noomi Rapace treads water, somewhere between the terrible supporting part she had in the second Sherlock Holmes film and her capable central role in the massively flawed Prometheus, playing a part she could probably play in her sleep, and – similarly to Farrell – never quite invested in the strange twists and turns that her character is supposed to guide us through. It’s almost like they hadn’t read the script from start to finish, and so their performances shift in tone and focus from scene to scene.
Terrence Howard must be kicking himself after losing out to the superior Don Cheadle for the part of Rhodey / War Machine in the Iron Man franchise – it’s not a role that would have shown off any Crash-like acting talent on Howard’s part, but it may have opened up better opportunities than Dead Man Down, where he spins like a top in a thoroughly archetypal role as the paranoid gangster muscling his way through opponents to try and find the person who is out to get him. Iron Man’s own dad, Howard Stark – Dominic Cooper – gets second fiddle as another enforcer, Isabelle Huppert remains warmly composed as Rapace’s French mother, and once-great character actors F. Murray Abraham and Armand Assante try to avoid looking their age in beleaguered father-figure roles, lending the picture a token gesture of heavyweight supporting clout.
Beyond plot twist layered on plot twist, the biggest thing that the film has going for it is a final act shootout which has some nice stunts and lots of engaging and well-staged action. But, after waiting almost two – very slow – hours to get there, it’s too little, too late, affording the movie an undeniably pleasant aftertaste which still does not make the whole meal any more satisfying. I rail against Dead Man Down, but it’s partly in anger over the simple poster quote stating that this is “The Best Revenge Thriller in Years”. It could have been far better than it is – maybe if Oplev shot it in his native Swedish it could have at least lent the movie some foreign charm – but, as it is, this convoluted piece is far from the Best Revenge Thriller in Years, and more like Just Another Mildly Diverting Crime Thriller. Which – with this pedigree, this premise, this cast and this director – simply is not good enough.
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