'Dead Man Down' falls flat
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
A generally goofy revenge thriller with some pleasingly lurid thrills, "Dead Man Down" spoils its chance at being a worthwhile sensationalist entertainment by overplaying its hand. That's hardly a surprise these days.
The supposedly noteworthy news about this movie is that it's the first American film directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the Danish-born filmmaker who directed the original foreign language adaptations of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and the two other books of the "Millennium" trilogy. I know, just what you've been waiting for, right? Anyway, aside from his clear pleasure at working with a Hollywood-sized production apparatus here (the Swedish "Millennium" thrillers didn't have the big-budget oomph that David Fincher was able to apply to the American version), Oplev doesn't distinguish himself too much from homegrown generic action would-be maestros. Yes, this has a little more of a "dark" European mood, and Oplev shoots New York locations with an eye to the unusual (and not immediately recognizable), and he gives a job to his "Girl" star Noomi Rapace, and for bonus points throws a gratuitous but not inapt reference to the Polanski classic "Repulsion" into the movie. But these are the sorts of things that guys like me are paid to notice. What are really meant to register here, and do, in a largely conventional fashion, are flying bullets and falling bodies.
The setup is not entirely unpromising. Colin Farrell plays Victor, who appears a loyal lieutenant to Terrence Howard's crime kingpin, Alphonse, who of late has been under mysterious threat. Rapace plays a young woman who lives in an apartment directly across from Victor's. She's scarred, both physically and psychologically, by a recent auto mishap. Under the pretext of flirting, Rapace's Beatrice arranges to meet with Victor ... and then shows him phone video of Victor killing a man in his apartment. In a proposal not unlike something out of Patricia Highsmith ("Strangers on a Train"), Beatrice tells Victor she'll keep his secret if he agrees to dispense with the drunken driver whose handiwork marred her.
Further twists ensue, as you might imagine. Victor's a killer, yes, but, as the saying goes, he has his reasons. And those reasons, too, are vengeance-driven. As Beatrice's demands, and her questions about Victor, complicate his spectacular action-set-piece score settlings, so too does the mutual attraction between these two, sniffle, lost souls call into question the ultimate effectiveness of revenge. Fortunately for the viewer the movie doesn't lean on the ethical dubiousness of its characters' actions too hard, and even so, it offers a sufficient number of twisted kicks to compensate for any insincere moralizing (one word: rats!). Also making life difficult for Victor in bringing off his literally explosive denouement is fellow gang member Darcy, played by Dominic Cooper, who's getting uncomfortably close to finding out Victor's secret. And Darcy's a guy Victor doesn't want to have to kill, mainly for spoilerish reasons, but also because he's a new family man himself. Aw, shucks.
Farrell glowers and destroys with grim purpose, Rapace is eccentrically crabby in her hell-bent determination, and Howard often overplays his underplaying as a guy who grows to have a grudging admiration for whoever is trying to kill him. The presence of Isabelle Huppert as Beatrice's mom is inexplicable, but not unwelcome, while Armand Assante's presence as an uber-boss is both apt and a pleasant surprise. By the time the finale comes around, the movie's tried to do too much, and 10 minutes before the end you may be wondering just what kind of posh neighborhood exists in which all this assault weapon shooting and grenade exploding would go completely unnoticed by the local constabulary. Or not.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.