Dead Man Down (2013), directed by Niels Arden Oplev
With one of the best trailers I’ve seen this year (although, what’s with this Dragon Tattoo, female cover of 1970s classic rock tunes motif?), a stellar cast and a chance for the director of the Swedish GWTDT to make a breakthrough into English language films, I went into Dead Man Down with high hopes.
How many reviews do I start like this? I guess I should stop getting my hopes up.
Listen, obviously I’m going to get into how the movie disappointed me, but for a change of pace let’s talk first about what this failed movie did right.
I wasn’t wrong about most of the cast. Colin Farrell is quiet and gloomy and rather good. Noomi Rapace is generally excellent, but I must say (despite my search for the positive), her character’s extreme mood swings do come off a little comical. There was a round of laughter in the cinema when, while on an innocent-seeming date, all of a sudden starts yelling at Farrell to kill a man.
As is often the case, the clear scene stealer here is Dominic Cooper. All I can say is somebody give this man another leading role because my God does he have screen presence. Sure it’s a cheesy role, as a suspenders-wearing, heavily NY accented hood. But even in such a minor part, Cooper manages to show more charisma then the rest of the cast combined.
So there’s that.
Some of the movie works rather well. The strangers across the courtyard team up for revenge plot has a solid foundation. I like the general slow-burning tone of the film, even if it’s not used to full advantage.
Where the film gets into trouble is in the execution and the script. Call me old fashioned, but I think the best approach for a revenge film is simplicity. Somebody kills Charles Bronson’s family, he gets a gun and then takes out the bad guys one by one. I watched Point Blank for the first time this weekend. Great revenge film. Lee Marvin gets screwed over by his crime partners, so he takes them out one by one.
Here we have two revenge plots, fine, but we also have two or three characters investigating the revenge plots, while another mostly revolves his revenge around petty, confusing harassment. So there’s a bit of a whodunit, but you know whodunit so you don’t care. And there’s kind of a love story, but one half of it (at least) is so messed up it’s hard to take her seriously, so it’s hard to care about that.
And then the revenge plots are so intricate and confusing that they’re hard to care about.
Then we make a switch to all-out Raid-style action film for the last section when the original revenge plot fails and it’s time for guns to blaze. In another film the sequence may have worked (the truck part was thrilling, to be fair) but here, with all this dreary Euro buildup, it seems out of place and lazy.
Thinking back I’m not sure why I was so keen for an English language movie from Arden Oplev. Really, I didn’t care much for his GWTDT either, finding it sloppy and uneven.
Which is exactly what’s wrong with Dead Man Down. I love a good revenge flick, but this ain’t it.
Dead Man Down is in cinemas now.