Deadfall is the latest release from Magnolia Pictures, the mother branch of the leading distributor of independent films that would never get a proper release without a company like them existing. While some of their releases are arthouse fare that caters to smaller audiences, some of their films, like Compliance are powerful thrillers that only have a small audience, often because the themes are challenging and very unfriendly to mainstream Hollywood audiences. Luckily, Deadfall falls in with Compliance by being an intelligent thriller that just wouldn’t do well in a major theatrical release, but at the same time, it’s something that shouldn’t fall by the wayside.
Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) are siblings that just ripped off an Indian casino in upstate Michigan, who end up stranded in the middle of a blizzard when things go wrong. Meanwhile, disgraced boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam) is just being released from prison and attempting to get reunited with his parents, June (Sissy Spacek) and Chet (Kris Kristofferson) for Thanksgiving Day.
If you can’t tell right away from the set up, Deadfall is a classic 60’s-style noir thriller. The hardened palooka, the sibling robbers-on-the-run, it all has a Dashiell Hammet feel to it, and the murder and snow factors are sure to draw comparisons to Fargo, but the cold, humorless approach of Deadfall marks it as a very different, more serious film. If I’m going to make a comparison to a Coen Brothers film, I’d liken it more to Blood Simple than Fargo, although the settings are starkly different.
As Addison and Liz plan their next move, Jay makes his, seeking revenge on the man that sent him to prison in the first place, only for things to take an unexpected, violent turn. When Liz and Jay meet up, Addison is left to his own devices that his life has taught him. Meanwhile, the police are starting to put things together regarding Addison’s escape, and Jay has his own reasons to avoid them, the two stories begin to intertwine, as Hannah (Kate Mara) acts as the catalyst between the two crimes that have been committed.
The plot is not as complicated as it sounds, but it’s well executed to the point where even the predictability of it is outweighed by the style of the action and acting. The plot is a slow burn, but the film never drags, and the strong acting from all involved powers it along nicely. The crisp cinematography by Shane Hurlbut adds gravity to the story, and Marco Beltrami‘s pulsing score compliments it perfectly, setting a somber tone for the duration.
Stefan Ruzowitsky directs with a sure vision, and the screenplay by Zach Dean is the engine that powers it all forward. Good thrillers like this are rarely made any more, and when they are, they rarely have the style that Deadfall comes to rely upon. There are things that don’t work in the film, and plot contrivances, but the shortcomings can easily be overlooked because of the quick pace and strong acting. Deadfall is currently running on all VOD outlets, and will see a limited theatrical release in major cities on December 7th, 2012.