Title: Dead Man Down
Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama
Director(s): Neils Arden Oplev
Release Year: 2013
Dead Man Down has everything I want in a film about revenge: stylish noir elements, intense action beats, an excellent cast, and an interesting premise. It says so much about a film when it can take these attributes, and churn out a mediocre effort through the use of absurd plot twists, coincidences, a snail-pace and what amounts to a very tonally inconsistent film. Dead Man Down is not a bad film, it is just one that has more potential than it does success. With a cast that can more than prove themselves on screen, and a director who knows a thing or two about portraying a gritty, chilling depiction of revenge, I expected a lot out of this film; perhaps just a bit too much.
Everything starts off intriguing, as Alphonse (Terrence Howard) is being sent ominous letters containing photos and pieces to a larger photo which will ultimately reveal who is targeting him. Right away we’re treated to Alphonse killing those he thinks are responsible, but the movie would end too quickly if they were really the ones behind the threats. Meanwhile, Alphonse’s right-hand man, Victor (Colin Farrell), is planning his own revenge against the people who killed his wife and child. Just so there isn’t one revenge plot happening, Noomi Rapace is introduced as Beatrice, who uses her knowledge of Victor’s dark past to get him to exact revenge for her on the drunk driver who got into a car accident with her. It’s a bit much, but it’s interesting having two main characters dealing with a dark past, and both finding a way to justify their vengeance. Unfortunately, revenge is a dish best served cold, so nobody acts quickly on their plans as the movie drags on and on delivering more of a drama than thriller. Which is not a bad thing, because Dead Man Down works wonderfully as a gritty portrait of the people who seek revenge, whether it be gang-related or just a complete accident.
The action scenes that happen three times throughout the film, pretty much ruin any feeling of tension or darkness, however, as dubstep drowns out the sounds of bullets and screams. The score overall feels more like a placeholder, but it’s these bass-heavy electronic beats which make the action scenes feel over-the-top. Music aside, the action is exhilarating and fast-paced, but in contrast to the molasses-like nature of Dead Man Down‘s narrative, these moments feel like highly-produced music videos stuffed inside a revenge drama. A drama, I might add, with most of the revenge constantly being sidelined by the romantic subplot of Victor and Beatrice, our two characters who are emotionally scarred and seek retribution. This romantic angle works about as much as any other romantic angle in a generic thriller does: just barely, but strung together enough so that the happy ending isn’t completely unjustified.
If the romance in the film works at all, it is because there’s plenty of time spent on it, and also because of the cast. Colin Farrell gives a great performance here, as the man juggling two different worlds and trying to make things right. His friendship with Darcy (Dominic Cooper) is in jeopardy when Darcy begins leading the investigation into who is targeting Alphonse. The two feel like brothers as they talk to each other about Darcy’s family life, and their operations under Alphonse. Their chemistry is infallible, being tested and paralleled with Victor’s relationship with Beatrice. In many ways, she is a reminder to him of his past life, and he can choose to seek revenge or hold onto the past, making sure it doesn’t slip away again. Noomi Rapace delivers a tortured soul better than a lot of other actors out there, and in Dead Man Down it is no different. Through a scarred face, she evokes an uneasiness, as we watch her walk through life no longer the same person she was before, complete with insults and assaults just for being slightly disfigured. Then of course, there’s Terrence Howard who portrays a more professional demeanor as the gang leader trying to find out who wants him in a body bag.
The cast manages to work wonders with what they’re given, plowing through inane plot twists and some cringe-worthy dialogue, but if you can cut through that, there’s a novelty about Dead Man Down which allows it to be a decent film, as opposed to an utter failure. The action is fun, the cast is top-notch, and the characters don’t feel inauthentic, though they do sometimes stretch into ridiculous territory. It is not a great film, but Neils Arden Oplev shows that he can bring out the best in his cast, even when he can’t create a significant or consistent film from such a cast. Dead Man Down is a different kind of beast than his work on 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but even though it doesn’t work completely, it shows that there’s still a reason to pay attention to what Oplev does next.