Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Watching the trailer for Dead Man Down, it looks like your run-of-the-mill action film. One big name actor (Colin Farrell) trying to kill another big name actor (Terrence Howard) while some girl might get caught in the middle (Noomi Rapace). Ho hum. Been there, done that. However, there were three things that got me into the theater (four if you count my ability to walk):
1) Colin Farrell tends to hit more than he misses so that had me slightly intrigued.
2) Noomi Rapace has yet to let me down as an actress so I figured she’d add some stability to the love interest.
3) Niels Arden Oplev was sitting in the director’s chair and I was hoping his work on the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t a fluke. (Insert rant about Hollywood remaking foreign films to lure Americans into theaters who are unwilling to read subtitles. I’ll be good and leave it at that.)
I guess what surprises me most is that I’m surprised at all. With Oplev behind the scenes and Farrell and Rapace heading things up, I should have known this wouldn’t be some cookie cutter mainstream revenge picture. And don’t be fooled/disappointed by the WWE Studios logo that comes up in the opening credits. Yes, Wade Barrett is in the movie but it’s a very small part (and only shows that he has as little screen presence as he does in the ring). What this movie manages to accomplish is deliver a remarkably entertaining, and at times nuanced, effort into a rather stale genre (at least as far as stateside filmmaking goes).
Farrell gives a measured performance but it’s completely appropriate for the character and I admire his restraint. It’s easy to dive off the deep end in a revenge tale but rather than fly off the handle with rage, he simmers the intensity underneath a cool and calm composure which is needed to pull off the plans he’s set in motion.
Nicely balancing him out is Rapace, who isn’t just your damsel in distress merely included in the script so female audience members can feel like there’s a love story for them to cling onto. She’s a damaged character, both physically and emotionally. Her pain allows for some measure of understanding of Farrell’s, and vice versa. Also, without giving anything away, there’s a remarkably welcome twist to their relationship which instantly lets the audience know that the film means business and that this wouldn’t just be another mindless diversion in the multiplex.
Now, trying to describe the movie is a bit like trying to explain what color something is to a blind person. I want to use the phrase “European” but don’t want anyone to think that means it’s too artsy, or that it’s style over substance. It simply means that this falls much closer in line with films like Drive or Léon. Now don’t get too excited, it’s not quite up to that level but there’s a certain sensibility that’s evoked by those films which fits here.
Dead Man Down continues a trend I’ve seen so far this year which has us on a marked upslope cinematically from 2012. Sure, there are still plenty of terrible efforts being crammed down our eye sockets right now but every couple of weeks, something good is making it onto the big screen and last year, that happened every couple of months up until the awards season push. If you prefer your films to present layered characters and not dumb things down for the lowest common denominator, then you should check this out. It’s the best movie released in the past few weeks and looking at the slate for the rest of March, that statement’s probably going to hold.
Dead Man Down hits theaters on March 8, 2013 and is rated R for violence, language throughout and a scene of sexuality.
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