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Dead Man Down
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by Brett Gallman

"Stays six feet under."
2 stars

“Dead Man Down” is something of a cat-and-mouse thriller involving three blind mice and, more unfortunately, a tone deaf director who can’t figure out which story to tell.

The film initially presents its cat as an unseen mastermind who has dispensed with that Klingon nonsense about serving revenge cold; instead, he’s taken the James Bond villain approach by concocting an elaborate scheme that’s targeted criminal kingpin Alphonse (Terence Howard) for months. Working among Alphonse’s crew is Victor (Colin Farrell), a quiet but ruthless thug who lives an otherwise unassuming life.

However, neighboring Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) has snuffed out his secret when she observes him carrying out an apparent hit one night; after gaining his trust over an awkward dinner, she unexpectedly blackmails him with an unusual proposition: instead of turning him into the police, she wants Victor to kill the drunk driver who left her disfigured after a car accident.

That’s sufficiently silly, and there’s already enough material there for two different movies. “Dead Man Down” isn’t content to just be bi-fractured and unfocused, though, as it becomes more absurdly pulpy with each new reveal. By the end, it’s a thoroughly tangled mess of shifting loyalties, motivations, and subplots that barely coalesce into serviceable pulp. The film takes its time to settle down, but, once it does, there are some trashy thrills in its various secrets and mechanizations, most of which are hidden from the characters themselves but made fully available to the audience.

Despite seemingly serving as a brawny pawn for Beatrice’s own revenge, Victor also carries a set of heavy baggage that provides most of the film’s narrative thrust. Really, his job for Beatrice is treated as something of a side-mission that the story occasionally returns to whenever he’s not too preoccupied with gangster duty and his own personal vengeance. If there’s a primary problem with “Dead Man Down,” it’s that the two main threads never quite come together in a satisfying way.

While it’s obvious that these two damaged people are meant for each other, their tragedies are too contrasted. As it turns out, Victor has endured an unfathomable loss, while Beatrice has some unsightly facial scars that seem unlikely to drive anyone to such homicidal lengths. There are some ludicrous attempts to heighten the drama there, including the local kids who refer to her as “monster” and hurl rocks at her, but her plight is trivial compared to Victor’s.

Still, “Dead Man Down” becomes an oddly frustrating experience since it sometimes feels compelling in spite of itself. Victor’s personal vendetta is absurd but entertaining—at one point, you’ve got Howard’s mobster, Albanian gangsters, and one of Victor’s oblivious buddies scurrying about and essentially chasing their own tail while he pulls the strings behind the scenes. Whenever the film focused on this aspect, it won me over with a lunk-headed sort of charm, even if it isn’t aware of its own inanity. It’s basically “Death Wish” if Paul Kersey had more of a theatrical flair for the dramatic and a wild, meticulously plotted plan to enact his revenge.

His blossoming relationship with Beatrice is the other half of the equation; while it’s not as immediately compelling, it does provide a more thoughtful dimension that allows the film to explore the destructive effects of revenge. Whatever it sets out to muse is pretty obvious, though (in short: “it’s bad, mmkay?”), and it botches an opportunity to engage a daring anti-climax. The film cleverly dangles the possibility that these two could give up their respective thirsts for revenge by simply confiding in each other, but it (of course) trades this in for the obvious, guns-blazing climax that involves Colin Farrell launching a truck through a bad guy’s house and raiding the compound using (among other things) explosive beer cans.

As such, “Dead Man Down” is a pulp thriller in denial, a film that charges ahead with a relentless sense of profundity despite an ample amount of silliness. Director Niels Arden Oplev attempts to bring a reserved, icy European sensibility to his Hollywood debut and succeeds in crafting a moody, wintry noir atmosphere that almost tricks one into buying the film’s grim-faced posturing.

Likewise, the presence of a solid ensemble lends some credibility to the stock character types. Farrell and Rapace appropriately smolder in the lead roles, while Howard is an inspired choice as a weasely shit heel (and, if nothing else, he seems to comprehend the goofiness better than the rest of the cast). Various attempts to sprinkle in levity and human flourishes among them flounder under the weight of the otherwise solemn proceedings and only serve as jarring, contrasting punchlines to jokes Oplev isn't aware he's telling.

There’s perhaps a handful of interesting stories in “Dead Man Down,” each of which could have served as a pretty compelling film on their own. When hastily Frankensteined together, they only lumber on as a muddled, turgid, and convoluted B-movie that thinks it’s been composed of A-movie parts. Most unfortunate is its assumption that it should have a brain.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24438&reviewer=429
originally posted: 03/09/13 18:51:10
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User Comments

3/12/13 mr.mike Noomi Rapace makes it watchable. 3 stars
3/11/13 Juan Sam Agreed, terrible movie. Expected better from the writer/director. 2 stars
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  08-Mar-2013 (R)
  DVD: 09-Jul-2013


  DVD: 09-Jul-2013

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