Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Movie Review: Dead Man Down (2013)


A revenge crime thriller, Dead Man Down benefits from a focus on characters and a suitably grim mood.

In New York City, Victor (Colin Farrell) and his partner Darcy (Dominic Cooper) are violent gang members, part of the crew run by crime boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard). However, while pretending to be a loyal foot soldier, Victor is also on a secret and personal revenge mission, seeking retribution against Alphonse for the murder of his wife and child two years earlier.

Victor meets his neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who lives with her mother (Isabelle Huppert). Beatrice was the victim of an accident caused by a drunk driver that left her with permanent facial scars. Having witnessed Victor commit a murder in his apartment, she demands that he kill the drunk driver, who got away with a light sentence. With Darcy investigating who is behind the threats against Alphonse, Victor has to quickly advance his complex retribution and satisfy Beatrice before his cover is blown.

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, Dead Man Down is better than it needed to be. Oplev restricts the action set pieces to just a few punchy moments at the start, middle and end, and keeps them short if a bit muddled in execution. Plenty of room is therefore created for a complex double revenge plot to unfurl from the middle outwards, and the characters of Victor and Beatrice occupy centre stage.

The story of Victor plotting an elaborate payback contains a compelling backstory and a patient build-up, while Beatrice is an intriguing woman, scarred physically but more deeply damaged emotionally. The two combine to create an unusually provocative duo with overlapping objectives. When the inevitable relationship evolves between them, their rage is also cast in a new light.

None of which is to say that Dead Man Down doesn't contain glaring faults. Gangster stereotypes and narrative shortcuts litter the screen, plot holes waltz through the film, and New York City is somehow suddenly devoid of law enforcement. Early in the story a gangland massacre takes place, with an exchange of gunfire worthy of a war zone, and yet none of the perpetrators are ever remotely bothered by any sort of investigation.

Oplev skips past the shortcomings with an appealing dark aesthetic, many of the scenes taking place at dusk or later, with dark blues and artificial lighting complementing the underworld milieu. And the quality of the cast also helps to ride out the weaker moments. Colin Farrell's generally expressionless persona is well suited to the secretive and scheming Victor, while Noomi Rapace matches Farrell with her sense of determined despondency. Isabelle Huppert as Beatrice's mostly deaf mother adds depth to Beatrice's domesticity. Veterans Armand Assante and F. Murray Abraham have small supporting roles.

A reasonably potent mix of action and layered plot, Dead Man Down enjoys more ups than downs.






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