Synopsis: Acclaimed Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, director of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, makes his American film debut with Dead Man Down, a provocative action thriller starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace. Set in the violent and unforgiving criminal underworld of New York City, Dead Man Down is a startling and vivid tale of two strangers bound together by a consuming mutual obsession: revenge.
Release Date: March 8, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Action, Thriller
The greatest cinematic minds of this or any generation do one thing incredibly well: they show, they don’t tell. It’s one of the main differences between a mediocre film filled with tons of exposition and characters reminding the audience of their role, and a film that feels effortless in its execution. Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with a film like Dead Man Down, but in fact, it has everything to do with it.
See, Dead Man Down is a film that aspires to something greater. The ideas contained within the film are generic revenge fodder, but the narrative structure, at least at first, is something unique. It tosses the audience headfirst into the story, which follows a mob enforcer (Colin Farrell) on a quest for revenge, without so much as an expository line. In fact, our protagonist, Victor, doesn’t even say a word for the first 10 minutes of the movie, save for “I’m alright.”
You can see on Victor’s face in the film’s first major scene – where his boss, Alphonse (Terence Howard), accuses a competing criminal of sending him mysterious cutouts of a larger, and equally puzzling picture – that something is off, but you don’t know what. You discover, eventually, that Victor wants Alphonse and his cohorts dead, and will stop at nothing to get it – but it’s not overtly spelled out, at least not at first. It’s admirable that a film like this doesn’t just jump head first into exposition, which makes it all the more unfortunate when it does.
Unfortunately, even the film’s mysterious, yet oddly intriguing, setup is undermined by the film’s script, which was written by former “Fringe” showrunner J.H. Wyman. While the script doesn’t spoon feed the audience any answers in the first act, it also doesn’t adequately provide enough clues to hint at what is going on. Instead, the audience is left wondering what they’re watching – asking what is the point of it all. Luckily, the film gets there, but it does so by flipping its motivations completely on its head. Rather than taking a mysterious, almost free-form approach to its narrative, the film devolves into generic revenge flick by the 30-minute mark.
It is there where Dead Man Down really fails. It can’t competently present a story that shows and doesn’t tell, and so it decides it better get everyone on board with some expository scenes before it mindlessly plods towards a criminally unearned climactic shootout. On the one hand, it’s hard not to commend Dead Man Down for some ambition, but at the same time, the failures contained therein make it insufferable at times. And then when the film decides to go a more generic route, it’s just not entertaining.
Both Colin Farrell and Terence Howard have seen better days, and better films. At certain points it feels like they both realize what type of film they’re making – a mediocre revenge thriller, in case you forgot – and try to do something a little different with their roles. Farrell, who’s typically the wisecracking blabbermouth, goes for the quiet, reserved approach, which just makes him seem like he’s forgotten his lines. And Howard approaches his role as the token bad guy, spouting off pointless one-liners that are just embarrassing. The two are completely underutilized, and in some respects, they fail to make the case they are talented actors stuck in bad roles.
Then there’s Noomi Rapace, poor Noomi Rapace. Her character, a broken woman that is similarly blinded by revenge, is actually rather complex. She, like Victor, has had something important taken from her and would like nothing more than to right that wrong. The way the film introduces her character and then establishes her back-story is probably the most interesting part of the entire film.
That is, until she turns into a typical love interest, making dumb decisions in order to fuel a romantic subplot. Something tells me that Rapace is too trusting of her directors, especially when it’s someone she’s worked with before like Oplev. She’s clearly a tremendous actress, and she gives her all to the role. It’s just a shame her character becomes so bland.
It’s worth mentioning Dead Man Down‘s director Niles Arden Oplev, if only because it’s his first English language film. Best known for the Swedish adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Oplev clearly knows his revenge thrillers, and his muted blues and yellows. Oplev doesn’t do anything to elevate the film in any meaningful way, mind you, but his direction is serviceable. As well, he’s able to build some tension in the appropriate places. The film’s climactic action sequence is also surprisingly well constructed, even if it is a little silly.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Niels Arden Oplev
- Screenwriter(s): J.H. Wyman
- Cast: Colin Farrell (Victor), Noomi Rapace (Beatrice), Terrence Howard (Alphonse), Dominic Cooper (Darcy)
- Editor(s): Timothy A. Good
- Cinematographer: Paul Cameron
- Music Score: Jacob Groth
- Country Of Origin: USA