There’s something oddly reassuring about seeing a good, new movie in the theater during a season when good, new movies are not in the theater. As is customary, good movies aren’t released theatrically in the first months of the year. It’s the dreaded time after the studios have pushed for Oscars, but before they’re hitting us with summer blockbusters. So, while there’s no real mystery as to why late winter/early spring boasts a cinematic lull, that certainly shouldn’t take away from the pleasure of spotting a diamond in the rough.
Point is, I dug Dead Man Down. A lot. Damned the month in which it was released. It’s a densely plotted, well acted, and swiftly executed action thriller that aims to be nothing more. It’s as if Oplev was acutely aware of what his film was, and how far he could push it. It isn’t gunning for awards or aiming for stacks of cash, it’s merely trying to pass the time amicably.
After low level New York City thug, Victor (Colin Farrell) kills a colleague, Victor’s emotionally and physically scarred neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), blackmails him to murder the man that ruined her life. Beatrice was crafty enough to videotape Victor killing his cohort, and if Victor kills the man who drunkenly crashed into Beatrice’s car, then all will be right in the world. That’s literally the first 10 minutes of the movie, and believe you me, that ain’t the half of it. What develops is a film documenting genuine criminal activity, helmed by Victor’s vengeful boss, Alphonse (Terrence Howard), while mixed with a touch and go, love/hate romance between Victor and Beatrice.
But, again, don’t think Dead Man Down isn’t well aware of how easily it could be labeled as cliché. We’ve all seen the couple in peril fall in love amidst the chaos. We’ve all seen the action romp in which everything is explained, and nothing is left purposefully astray. We’ve seen them, and, thankfully, so has director Oplev. Because Oplev is aware of where his film can go, he makes Dead Man Down different. He gives it patience and restraint. Look, I’m not saying the film doesn’t occasionally breakdown with an over the top action sequence, but when it did, I was game.
Rapace’s breakthrough role was as Lisbeth Salander in the Oplev-directed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and it is great to see them team up again. I have yet to witness a Rapace performance that didn’t completely floor me. Woman’s got it.
I’ve been a staunch supporter (and occasional apologist) for Colin Farrell since his remarkable turn in Tigerland. He’s had some missteps, but more often that not, I’m wowed by his ferocity. Victor’s the meatiest role Farrell has had in a while, and in my opinion, he sunk in and nailed it. Same goes for the film’s impressive supporting cast, including Howard, Isabelle Huppert, Dominic Cooper, F. Murray Abraham and Armand Assante. It’s as if everyone involved knew they could put in a little more, and propel Dead Man Down above run of the mill.
Don’t mistake this review as an overtly positive assessment of an unflawed film. Dead Man Down has its flaws – I’m not going to argue that. But, for two whole hours, I gladly pushed them aside and let myself enjoy the show. Which, in this season or any, is good enough for me. B