Is it weird to feel that some movies would be better served being shown on cable? Dead Man Down is not a particularly good crime thriller, but serviceable enough to make you late for an appointment should you stumble upon it on HBO. We’re now in March, the time of year where Hollywood ventures out into the light of a new year like a hibernating woodland animal, still blinded by the glitz of the Oscars amidst the darkness of the January/February release schedule. What I mean to say is that two thirds of Dead Man Down is a decent, engaging film, though not one worth clearing your social calendar for.
Colin Farrell is Victor, a crime organization underling with the requisite dark past. The organization’s leader, Alphonse (Terrance Howard) finds himself on the receiving end of suspicious Fedex deliveries, each with a puzzle piece hinting at a past crime he probably now wishes he did not commit. Victor plays the ever faithful subordinate, while simultaneously seeking revenge for his own troubled history. Complicating this plan, as women are want to do, is Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), Victor’s neighbor. Conveniently enough, Beatrice also has a past that she feels needs to be avenged and ropes Victor into helping her through means that are equally illegal. However ridiculous the circumstances, their mutual desire of revenge and high body counts brings them together. But it’s complicated.
Despite the all too familiar crime thriller beats within the film, it does a good job obscuring the ultimate payoff for each character involved. The film follows Victor as he attempts to stay one step ahead of his enemies, and even when original plans are botched, he manages to adapt. But the payoff for Victor and Beatrice comes at the great sacrifice of audience investment in their fate. Their relationship with each other is a little too rooted in the unbelievable, and lacked the necessary seeds for growth throughout the film. In addition to the central relationship, suspension of belief is also heavily required during most of the action sequences. The film’s cold open is one of the most confusing and disorienting sequences I have ever seen, and it takes a little too long for the audience to catch up once the carnage is over. When the movie takes the time to settle down a bit, the threads begin to unravel and knot in ways that are sometimes satisfying, but more often you are left with the feeling that more intuitive thought and editing could have led to a better film.
The cast gives passable performances all around, with Colin Farrell once again proving that even in his subpar films he remains one of the more engaging actors on screen. Noomi Rapace worked with director Niels Arden Oplev before on the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and it’s interesting to see glimpses of her Lisbeth character here, but the film’s weak script negatively affects her character the most. The giant leaps the audience is forced to make to understand the logic behind her character motives is slightly made up for in the film’s quieter moments, when instead of verbalizing her pain, we can see it in her face. The brightest spot in the cast, however, is Isabelle Huppert, who plays Beatrice’s mother. She steals every scene she is in, and creates much more pathos around Farrell and Rapace’s characters than they could achieve alone.
Dead Man Down is not too far off from Justified or the other hard-edged revenge-driven TV soaps that seem to be so popular now. Consider it a fun distraction that doesn’t need to leave much of a lasting impression.