Published Mar 07, 2013If nothing else, Dead Man Down, as directed by Niels Arden Oplev (who helmed the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and written by Fringe staffer J.H Wyman, is easily the greatest film ever funded by WWE Studios. There's a theme, professional actors putting in at least minimal effort and a plot that occasionally makes sense. Unfortunately, that's almost all there is to commend about this messy, but well-intentioned romance-cum-revenge thriller.
When the film opens, crime syndicate underling Darcy (Dominic Cooper) tells Victor (Colin Farrell) that having a baby (of which there are multiple heavy-handed close-ups) taught him that the only thing that matters in life — the most important thing — is human connection. It's a scene milked to non-existent, context-free dramatic effect that's juxtaposed with a brutal gangland shootout between crime lord Alphonse (Terrence Howard) and a man suspected of killing off his interchangeable minions and FedEx'ing miniscule photographic puzzle pieces like a villain in a James Patterson novel.
Victor is just a peon in the scheme of things, but we follow him home to his apartment, where he eats ramen noodles and stares wistfully at Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a neighbour covered in facial scars after a car crash ruined her beautician career a year prior.
Oplev's handling of the material is, at least, noble. Eschewing much of the thug life periphery of the film — inadvertently making it play as very '90s cable fare — he focuses on the relationship between Victor and Beatrice, both of whom are scarred by past trauma and live only to enact vengeance upon those who ruined them.
In a way, there's something touching about their connection, seeing as his single-minded pursuit leaves him as isolated as she makes herself through neurotic behaviour and a pseudo-destructive relationship with her mother (Isabelle Huppert). It's just a shame that in order to make their relationship convincing, in addition to her twitchy, psychotic behaviour, there's a clumsy metaphor about Victor looking after monsters and a trajectory of local boys harassing Beatrice, throwing rocks at her because of a few facial scars.
As the mystery element gradually unfolds and checks off some valid emotional and narrative points, there's an overall lack of cohesion that suggests somewhere within the text, and Oplev's vision, was a compelling thriller with a grounding emotional framework.
But, as Dead Man Down is presented, this kernel remains buried amidst an array of mismatched tones and illogical character reactions, especially during an overblown, oft-illogical climax that almost contradicts, or at least distorts, the overall message (eOne)