Dead Man Down Review

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Never has a trailer improperly sold a film as much as Niels Arden Oplev‘s Dead Man Down. The film, which is mostly a slow-burn relationship-builder, was marketed by FilmDistrict as a clever revenge tale. Revenge is the film’s primary focus, but why the characters want their revenge is butchered to pieces in the trailer and almost an entirely different story than what is actually presented in the film. Dead Man Down isn’t any worse (or much better) because of it.

Victor (Colin Farrell) is a former family man turned killer after his wife and daughter were innocently murdered. The man that was responsible, Alphonse (Terrence Howard), has actually hired Victor to act as one of his henchmen, because Victor somehow managed to escape death and change his appearance enough for no one to recognize him. It’s a long stretch, but you’d be surprised how far shaving your beard and changing your accent will get you.

Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) is a victim of a car crash that’s left her with a disfigured face thanks to a drunk driver. Her driver only got weeks in jail, while she has the rest of her life to live in torment.

The two don’t know each other formally, but they often stare and wave at each other through the window. It’s a weird way to start a relationship, but this is modern times and things like grabbing coffee or drinks simply cannot be done I guess.

Anyways, Beatrice attempts to frame Victor in hopes of getting him to kill the man that crashed his car into her. She has a tape that shows Victor killing a man in cold blood, so she offers it to him in exchange for the death of her enemy. Victor’s instantly faced with a splitting decision, because up until now he’s only killed people directly involved with the murdering of his family.

He takes her up on the offer, hoping that she’ll just leave him alone and allow him to continue his deadly manhunt on Alphonse and his never-ending list of muscled out bad guys. But things are never that simple and suddenly Victor finds himself falling for Beatrice.

Will Victor have it in him to get either of the jobs done? Or will he change his identity again and attempt to court Beatrice? These are questions that one might ask themself while watching Dead Man Down.

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Niels Arden Oplev, director of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, films Dead Man Down cut and dry. It’s your standard (and I do mean very standard) drama, with only one or two moments leaving any sort of memory. The action in the film is presented in a manner that can only be described as common, with shootouts amounting to virtually nothing, while some of the character-driven scenes poke out as memorable.

Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace lead the film with two complicated performances. Farrell’s Victor is your basic out-for-revenge family man turned mercenary, sometimes letting us in on the mental side of the character, while mostly showing us the bad ass side. This is fine and works well for Farrell, but not once does the character push past something we’ve seen done far more effectively before. Farrell has the chops (and muscles) to back the character, but it’s going to take more than a five o’clock shadow and some mean-looking tattoos to convince us that this guy is anything more than a pissed off mute.

Farrell keeps the talking to a minimum and the face-smashing to a maximum, which will entertain crowds in doses while leaving you almost nothing to chew on afterwards.

Rapace is given more to work with, but still comes up nearly as empty as Farrell. Her natural beauty is almost distracting, because her character’s main struggle is getting over her damaged facial features, which appear scarred and slashed, but still make Rapace’s Beatrice a stunning woman to look at. I really doubt anyone would resort to calling someone with Rapace’s looks a monster, even if she has scars, but Rapace manages to stay in character and reveal a softer side of her that we haven’t seen before.

Beatrice is a tough woman, with lots of backbone, but she’s also a lonely romantic looking to start her life over again. Rapace’s biggest problem is not having enough to work with. Writer J.H. Wyman has written some of the shallowest characters that almost rely solely on its actors to remain interesting. Everything is too one-note or quickly scribbled down to make a difference.

Niels Arden Oplev uses his skills behind the lens to make Dead Man Down occasionally look like a semi-stylish crime thriller, but mostly a made-for-TV drama. The side characters are WWE Studios-level bad, which didn’t make sense until I figured out that this film was actually produced by WWE Studios. Seriously, every other character aside from Farrell, Rapace, Howard and the under-used Dominic Cooper fits their respective stereotype almost offensively. Every Russian cast member talks stiff and drinks Vodka, while the Americans shoot first and ask questions later without a clue.

This is what happens when a lazy script falls into the lap of a more-than-capable, but still new to the feature film world director. Oplev has worked on a lot of television before this and it shows. The camera movement, the lack of escalating action and the general slow pacing all feels like the structuring of a mini-series or weekly television show.

Dead Man Down coasts on auto-pilot from start to finish. Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace give the production a more expensive feel, because seeing established actors shouting out questionable dialogue always goes down smoother than watching second-rate performers trying their luck on the big screen. Terrence Howard and Dominic Cooper almost deserve their own paragraphs, because both men do so much with very little, but because the material is so cramped it almost makes it hard to expand upon. They’re both plot-drivers that add some much-needed force to the film’s idle moments.

I don’t see this film holding on in theaters much longer than two weeks and that’s perfectly fine with me. It’s not horrible, but it never skates past being okay. The writing really holds the film down from being worth any value, even if Oplev was able to lock in a sizable cast of performers more than willing to bite into the material and spit out something of some worth. Sadly, Dead Man Down isn’t worth much more than the small popcorn you bought before walking into the auditorium.

Dead Man Down – 6.5/10

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