Mark Reviews Movies

Dead Man Down


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, F. Murray Abraham, Armand Assante

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, language throughout and a scene of sexuality)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 3/8/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 8, 2013

There is a sad story of two lonely, hurt people at the forefront of Dead Man Down (Please do not attempt to make sense of that title; it will only cause pain). At least there is until the movie decides it no longer wants to follow through on its premise and settles for a generic third act that stands as a complete antithesis to the gloomy tone and morally ambiguous scenario the movie has established.

It's a rocky road beforehand, too, with the execution of a long grift of a revenge plot with questionable reasons for its elaborate nature, another plan for revenge that is forgotten about until just before the finale, and a villain that can randomly figure out minute pieces of the strategy against him but utterly fails to see the conspirator right in front of him (There's even a scene in which it appears that he's threatening the traitor but actually has no clue). With only the most minimal of inspection, it's clear that J.H. Wyman's screenplay is a convoluted mess, but there's a momentum of impending doom to the proceedings and a focus on the strange central relationship that help keep scrutiny at bay. Once those elements are gone, though, the movie has nowhere to go but down (no pun intended).

The story starts with a mystery and quickly catches up to the context. There's a dead body in a freezer with a note in its hand and a piece of a photograph in its mouth. This is not the first time Alphonse (Terrence Howard), a high-powered mob captain, has received such a cryptic message; for three months, he's been getting pieces of a cut-up photo of a happy family.

One of the members of Alphonse's crew is Victor (Colin Farrell). He lives alone in a sparsely furnished apartment. From his balcony, he can see to the building across the street, and in that window is Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a woman with multiple scars on the left side of her face from reconstructive surgery performed after a car accident.

They wave to each other, and soon after, she leaves a note with her phone number in his mailbox. He calls; they talk and go out for coffee. She drives him to a seemingly random house on an ordinary street and informs him that the man who crashed into her car lives there. She asks Victor to kill this man. If he does not, she promises to go to the police with a video of him killing another man—the one from the freezer—in his apartment.

It's a strong premise that essentially turns the sympathetic Beatrice into the antagonist. For you see, Victor is nearing the completion of an intricate two-year plan to avenge the killings of his wife and daughter, both indirectly by the hands of Alphonse; Beatrice's own desire for vengeance—complete with a handwritten schedule of the drunk driver's daily movements—and her blackmailing of Victor can only get in his way. That he has bided his time for so long is, of course, a contrivance of the screenplay, though the theory his uncle-in-law (F. Murray Abraham) proposes—that Victor is afraid Alphonse's death will not mend his broken heart—is laudable for its naïveté.

The first hint that things might not turn out so badly for Victor and Beatrice is that her goal does not become a distraction for him. He agrees to her demands, and the two begin spending time together discussing the murder plot and why they both believe killing the men who wronged them will help them to forget the pain they've suffered. He gets along with her mother (Isabelle Huppert), and she takes an interest in his scheme, which involves a hideout rigged with explosives and the kidnapped brother of an Albanian gangster (It's complicated). Theirs is a wholly bizarre romance of convenience.

The role of antagonist is eventually filled by Victor's friend and fellow mob goon Darcy (Dominic Cooper), a man trying to keep a family he never expected together and to move up in the ranks (presumably to better provide for them). He's on the trail that the dead man in freezer was on before he ended up in the freezer, and his persistence to follow clue after clue despite Victor's repeated warnings gradually becomes comical. The same can be said of an out-of-place action sequence that has Victor shooting Alphonse's driver with a sniper rifle for no apparent reason and then—again, despite the years of planning—having to improvise an escape (If one were curious to know the means, it's a body hung with an extension cord out the window of a building).

It's when Victor's plan goes awry that the movie's already shaky ability to ward off its inherent absurdity fails it. Dead Man Down turns to old clichés like turning a previously strong female character into a damsel in distress and erupts into a violent, chaotic shootout (We half expect "My Boyfriend's Back" to break out on the soundtrack). It's an exhausted resolution that only awakens us to the rest of the movie's laziness.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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