Review: Dead Man Down
PLOT: Victor (Colin Farrell) is part of gangster kingpin Alphonse Hoyt's (Terrence Howard) crew. Handy with a gun, and smart enough to keep his mouth shut most of the time, he's risen through the ranks quickly. But- when Beatrice (Noomi Rapace)- Victor's neighbor, sees him commit a murder, she blackmails him into killing the drunk driver who left her with a badly scarred face. Little does she know, Victor is not the thug she thinks he is.
REVIEW: DEAD MAN DOWN has a relatively high-brow pedigree for an action thriller. Coming from director Niels Arden Oplev- who previously directed Noomi Rapace in the acclaimed Swedish adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, DEAD MAN DOWN takes a familiar story- which could have easily been lifted from an eighties Charles Bronson Cannon flick, or a nineties Van Damme outing, and gives it the “art-house action” treatment. While not as good as other examples of that new genre, like HANNA or DRIVE, DEAD MAN DOWN is nonetheless solidly entertaining, and a top notch “tough guy” star vehicle for Colin Farrell.
Here, he plays your prototypical killer with a heart of gold, who- of course, is hiding some painful secret that justifies his methodical approach to the underworld. It's a familiar part, and the revelation regarding his character and his part in Howard's mob isn't tough to predict. Still, even if the role is familiar, Farrell delivers in an emotionally satisfying way a lot of other action stars might not be capable of. His performance here is ultra-intense and highly emotional- and it's unique to see an action role taken with this kind of method-style approach. Take him out of DEAD MAN DOWN, and it's just a very pretty action movie. But with him- it's occasionally more than that.
As for Noomi Rapace, DEAD MAN DOWN is easily the best acting she's done in English, although- to be brutally honest, that's not setting the bar too high- not that it's all her fault. She was utterly miscast as window dressing in the last SHERLOCK HOLMES, and had the blandest part in PROMETHEUS. Here, under Oplev's direction, she has a lot more to work with as Beatrice, a former beautician who whose face was mangled by a drunk driver. While the neighborhood kids follow her around and call her monster, I need to point out that Rapace really doesn't look that bad at all here, making it hard to accept when characters are supposed to be taken aback by her looks. She's very good as Beatrice- even if the character feels a little under-cooked at times.
Given the two lead performances, it's a shame that DEAD MAN DOWN is often let down a bit by a pretty disjointed story. It's riddled with huge lapses of logic that are incredibly annoying (including the standard “no cops anywhere trap”- even during a downtown shootout)- including one whole scene between Farrell and Howard (as the dandified baddie) that doesn't make a lick of sense, and left me scratching my head. This would have been harder to forgive in a less stylish film, but Aplev's sleek visuals (with cinematography by Paul Cameron, who shot MAN ON FIRE, and co-shot COLLATERAL), and the powerhouse performances by Farrell and Rapace make it easier to cut it some slack.
The best parts of DEAD MAN DOWN are the three action set-pieces- one for the beginning, middle and end. It's actually the middle action scene that's the best- with Farrell's downtown mobster sniper attack being the kind of thing that would absolutely own in a PUNISHER reboot (come to think of it- Farrell would be an interesting choice). Aplev's handling of all three scenes is excellent, even if the CGI-packed finale is a little much for a film that had previously been relatively low-key.
Obviously DEAD MAN DOWN is not even close to being a perfect movie, but there's enough about it that resonates to make it an easy recommendation. As an action film it's plenty satisfying, but the performances from the two leads, and Aplev's talent behind the camera gives this an edge it wouldn't have had otherwise. It's probably not for everyone, but if you like your action flicks with a little European, art-house flair, this is for you.