On the surface, Niels Arden Oplev’s Dead Man Down is a thriller with a lot going for it. The two-pronged revenge flick looks great, shows occasional bursts of hard-nosed action, and makes respectable use of a noteworthy cast. Undoing the bulk of its assets, however, is an extreme ineptitude for storytelling. Spoiling the reunion of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s director and its star, Noomi Rapace, J.H. Wyman’s bumbling script is rife with holes that, despite valiant attempts, not even Oplev’s craft can mask.
Opening with an extended sequence of clear, loud, violent action, Oplev introduces the life of mid-level gangster Victor (Colin Farrell) with energy to spare. Heavy on gunshots and wonderfully visceral, the set piece’s steady visuals immediately place the film above the majority of its choppy, disorienting peers and sets a promising tone. A talented killer willing to risk his life for NYC kingpin Alphonse (Terrence Howard), Victor’s skills alone make him intriguing while a subdued demeanor hints at still waters running deep. Establishing a relationship with Beatrice (Rapace), a scarred former beautician whose apartment canopy is opposite his, the film appears to have found an equally appealing route to Victor’s soul. But while secrets are indeed revealed on their first date, they’re done so in a ridiculously abrupt manner that’s unfaithful to the preceding style and turns the film into a floundering mess.
Pulled over at a spot of Beatrice’s choosing, with no forewarning she whips out her phone and shows Victor footage of him killing a man in his apartment. His shocked face a proxy for the audience’s own confusion, she then threatens to tell the police unless he kills the drunk driver who caused her scars…a man who’s standing at the window of the house across the street! The unfounded suddenness of this double whammy is jarring in its failure, as is most of what follows. That includes the handling of Victor’s true identity, a Departed-like mole job with its own set of authorial issues.
Undercover to seek revenge on Alphonse, who killed his family and presumably him as well, Victor’s abilities or experience prior to the tragedy are unknown. Dead Man Down suggests that while concocting his plan, he went from Average Joe to Rambo, proficient in espionage, explosives, accents, and combat. Some of these skills have assumedly been learned from Gregor (F. Murray Abraham), Victor’s connected uncle-in-law, though in keeping with the script’s idiocy, such important questions go unanswered. After one clumsy reveal after another, competency is too much to expect and Wyman is happy to oblige. To his credit, Oplev does a commendable job in these deplorable confines, but is ultimately powerless in the face of bad writing.
Rated R for violence, language throughout and a scene of sexuality.
Dead Man Down is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.