Dead Man Down ✮✮
Partners in Payback
by Glenn Lovell
Strange weekend at the multiplex. I had no interest in seeing Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” but was pleasantly surprised. I looked forward to the thriller “Dead Man Down,” the first U.S. film by the director of the Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but was disappointed by a plot that at first meanders diffidently and then, by the obligatory shootout, comes apart at the seams
Another reminder that you can’t tell a book by its cover or a film by its hype.
“Dead Man Down,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev from a script by J.H. Wyman, provides an addenda to the adage “Misery loves company.” On the mean streets of New York (or Philly, which sometimes subs for NYC here), we discover that revenge, like misery, also loves company.
Victor (Colin Farrell) and Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) are across-the-courtyard neighbors in a dingy New York apartment complex. Beatrice, who’s French and lives with her mother (Isabelle Huppert), is a former beautician recovering from a nasty hit-and-run accident that has left her face veined with angry red scars. She appears to be lonely. Which would explain her voyeuristic tendencies. She, like Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window,” watches her neighbor’s every coming and going. (Come to think of it, there’s more than a trace of noir author Cornell Woolrich here.)
Finally, with a little nudging by Mom, Victor and Beatrice agree to a first date. It seems to be going fine until ‒ BAM! ‒ Beatrice reveals she’s after more than a romantic evening out. She wants Victor to kill the DUI driver who left her permanently disfigured. She knows he has it in him. She’s seen him in action, throttling a man, and has a phone video to blackmail him into doing the job.
What Beatrice doesn’t know is that Victor is really Laszlo Kerick, an Hungarian immigrant also obsessed with payback. Laszlo/Victor has infiltrated the gang that killed his family. He’s busy orchestrating an elaborate scheme to make the leader, Alphonse (Terrence Howard), pay dearly for his loss. Also in his sights are the Albanian thugs who carried out Alphonse’s orders.
Befitting its title ‒ and Oplev’s Scandinavian background ‒ “Dead Man Down” proves a dour-to-cold blooded little thriller with arresting performances by Farrell and Rapace, who was terrific as the Goth hacker seeking revenge in the “Girl” series. I have no quibble with either the film’s tone or its acting. Where it runs into trouble is in its plotting. Scenarist Wyman has this weird habit of staging hilariously improbable situations and then, 10 or 15 minutes later, explaining them away. Beatrice, who just happens to be at a downtown shooting driving a getaway car? She was, um, following Victor. Laszlo holding someone hostage in a derelict ship? The guy’s a pawn in what we gradually come to realize is Victor’s scheme to taunt the home-wreckers.
This back-end plotting is OK when used sparingly. Oplev and Wyman, however, attempt to weave an entire movie out of it. This ‒ and the amazing number of contrivances (Beatrice’s mother is conveniently deaf, the climactic firefight doesn’t draw a single cop) ‒ add up to a crime thriller that, in the end, proves more infuriating than intriguing. A pity. Oplev remains a talent to watch. He certainly deserves a second shot.
DEAD MAN DOWN ✮✮ With Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, Armand Assante. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev; scripted by J.H. Wyman. 110 min. Rated R (for profanity, knife and gun violence)