Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
Starring: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper, Terence Howard
The poster to Dead Man Down points out that Niels Arden Oplev is the director of the “original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”; whether the filmmakers are trying to make a subtle dig at Hollywood’s need to remake every decent foreign film remains to be seen, but there’s no escaping that the Swedish TGWTDT was a bit messy and (unlike Fincher’s remake) felt rushed. Similar problems plague Dead Man Down, Oplev’s return to filmmaking and his first film to be made in English.
Taking revenge as a theme, Oplev focuses on Colin Farrell’s Victor as he infiltrates a New York gang run by the wonderfully named Alphonse, intent on avenging his murdered family. Meanwhile, Victor is blackmailed into helping his neighbor Beatrice get revenge on the drunk driver who caused the accident that left her permanently disfigured. The double narrative is Oplev’s biggest problem; with so much story to tell, the narrative constantly feels rushed in order for the film to close in under 2 hours. Specifically Beatrice’s story, which at times feels like an afterthought tagged on to give the character more to do. Noomi Rapace should be commended for her powerful performance, her portrayal of a women damaged by a horrific accident is heartbreaking at times, it’s just a shame her story leaves you unfulfilled.
Oplev’s cast is stellar and even with clichéd twists and stock lines – “I got something for yo ass” screams Alphonse during the blistering final shootout – they’re a joy to watch from beginning to end. Farrell makes for a typically likeable protagonist; the subtle flaws and blinding determination making his character vulnerable and the various set pieces unbearably tense. As Alphonse, Terrence Howard is a sharp and charismatic villain who elevates the film. For all the hate you feel towards him, Alphonse remains a character who demands respect and Howard’s performance is powerful and hypnotic.
In his version of TGWTDT, Oplev showed his eye for action and with a bigger budget, he proves his ability to create excitement. The final shootout may well be the best you’ve seen so far this year, as Oplev gleefully destroys a suburban mansion. It’s unfortunate that the director didn’t spend as much time trying to balance J.H. Wyman’s script. It’s hard to expect much from the scribe that brought us The Mexican back in 2001 and you have to admire what he was trying to do with the double narrative. But, with so much to tell, the films pace feels uneven as Oplev tries to get from one story to the next with only the minimal exposition given to the characters; again, full praise to the superb cast for managing to make the characters engaging despite the weak material.
Superb acting can’t detract from the failings of Dead Man Down. It isn’t a poor film (far from it), but with so much story to tell the film buckles under it’s own weight. Terrific final shootout though!