DEAD MAN DOWN
Victor (Colin Farrell), a rising gangland player, has infiltrated the crime empire run by ruthless kingpin Alphonse (Terrence Howard), with the single purpose of making Alphonse pay for destroying his once happy life. As he meticulously orchestrates his vengeance from his high-rise home, Victor watches and is watched by Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a mysterious young woman who lives in the apartment across from his. On the surface a fragile woman-child, Beatrice seethes with a rage of her own. When she uncovers Victor's dark secret, she threatens to expose him unless he helps her carry out her own campaign of retribution. Each fixated on avenging the past, they devise a violent and cathartic plan.
Review by Louise Keller:
Two damaged souls obsessed with revenge make an unusual connection in this dark crime thriller whose impact comes more from its characterisations than its plot trajectory and shifting twists. Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace are a knockout combination, their relationship grounded on a knife's edge of destruction. Victor (Farrell) and Beatrice (Rapace) have more in common than they originally think, as neighbours in adjacent New York apartments who occasionally wave at each other from their balconies. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who directed Rapace in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Dead Man Down is worth watching for Farrell and Rapace alone.
In the opening scene, when Dominic Cooper's Darcy cradles his newborn baby and tells Victor 'Even the most damaged heart can be mended,' we are blissfully unaware of the implication of his words. It takes little time for us to learn that Victor is a man bent on revenge, although the details and reasons are teased out over the next couple of hours. Victor is part of an underworld organisation run by Alphonse (Terrence Howard, in form) and the plot begins with a dead man in a freezer and clues that involve an enigmatic note and photographs whose significance we do not yet know. There's a bloody shoot out to music and things are all rather confusing as we wonder who is playing whom?
Things improve in a big way when we meet Beatrice, her face severely disfigured from a car accident. Rapace has wonderful screen presence, countered by Isabelle Huppert (in a great piece of casting) as her nurturing mother who is a contradiction in terms: life-affirming and hard-of-hearing. It's a lovely moment when Beatrice and Victor officially meet from afar (from their respective balconies) speaking to each other for the first time on their mobile phones. She says she talks enough for both of them but he finds himself talking more than usual. Oplev's direction ensures we are constantly reminded of Beatrice's facial scars, but nothing prepares us for the bombshell she delivers when they go out together for the first time.
J. H. Wyman's screenplay (he wrote The Mexican) involving Albanians and a Hungarian family is murky around the edges but things finally come together in a spectacular climactic scene in which a car crashes into a warehouse with noisy audacity. The film's heart however, beats strongest around the growing relationship between Victor and Beatrice, who willingly become more and more enmeshed. The scenes between Farrell and Rapace are powerful and raw, the pain of their characters developing into a positive humanity in which negatives are miraculously turned into positives. That's the best part.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's obvious why director Niels Arden Oplev cast Noomi Rapace as Beatrice, the leading lady in Dead Man Down; she was his Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2006). It's less obvious why writer J.H. Wyman wrote the leading man as Hungarian and even less obvious why Oplev left it that way, given that Colin Farrell is a stretch as a Hungarian. Some of the supports are called upon to speak a few lines of Hungarian and this is another mistake. The only genuine Hungarian is spoken by the character who has the fewest (and least important) lines amongst those supports. None of this matters except to Hungarians who can't understand what is being said, so bad are the accents. It's ever thus with Hungarian. But surely someone could have checked the Hungarian pronunciation of the name Andras (Andrew - I know a bit about it, being Hungarian). In the film it's twice spoken, twice pronounced as Andras (with a hissing c); it should be Andrash (with a gush).
The unauthenticity of this little element aside, Oplev's choice of Isabelle Huppert as the half deaf mother is brilliant, elevating the supporting character thanks to Huppert's effortless mastery. Rapace is terrific, with her ever expressive eyebrows (and eyes) in a complex characterisation that calls for an emotional journey that is as much part of the story as the action.
Terrence Howard is grimly terrific as Alphonse, the crim who has Albanian thugs on hand to do the dirty work.
But speaking of the story, it's not as complicated as the film makes out, and what makes it interesting is the parallel paths to revenge that forms its backbone. The only thing left unclear is why these crims want to take over entire building - apparently abandoned. We may speculate, but that's not the same thing. There is also an inexplicable edit in which Victor is sitting with Alphonse under extremely tense circumstances, but we seem to abandon that scene without explanation and pick up Victor in the final stages of his secret attack plan.
Oplev likes to slow the action to take us closer into the Victor - Beatrice relationship, finding little bits of business to add layers (including Beatrice and mum both cooking for Victor). But the plot takes a bit too long to get any traction and consequently the film feels rather long. Still, I like the fusion of Hollywood and European filmmaking sensibilities and the resultant depth of field Oplev achieves.
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DEAD MAN DOWN (MA15+)
CAST: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper, Terrence Howard, Isabelle Huppert, Luis Da Silva Jnr,
PRODUCER: Neal H. Moritz, J. H. Wyman
DIRECTOR: Niels Arden Oplev
SCRIPT: J. H. Wyman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Paul Cameron
EDITOR: Timothy A. Good, Frederic Thoraval
MUSIC: Jacob Groth
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Niels Sejer
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 23, 2013
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.